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Massachusetts County Faces Lawsuit Over Phone Fee Kickbacks

by Monte McCoin

On May 2, 2018, attorneys with Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), the Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School and the law firm of Bailey & Glasser LLP filed a lawsuit against Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson and Securus Technologies, Inc., alleging the county jail’s phone contract with Securus constitutes an illegal kickback scheme.

“The excessive costs that are imposed on families by these payments are unlawful attempts to exploit vulnerable Massachusetts prisoners by commercializing their contact with the outside world,” said NCLC attorney Brian Highsmith.

According to court documents, between August 2011 and June 2013, Hodgson’s office collected $1.7 million in commission kickbacks from Securus. The telecom company paid the Sheriff’s Office a lump sum of $820,000 to cover 2016 through 2020.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs claim Hodgson and Securus are violating state consumer protection laws.

“What consumers are being charged has no relationship to the actual cost of providing phone service,” said Bonnie Tenneriello, a staff attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services. In comparison to a call from a Massachusetts state prison at $0.10 per minute with no fee for the first minute, a call from the Bristol County jail costs $3.16 for the first minute plus $0.16 for each additional minute.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for people who have received calls from prisoners at the jail, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs.

“We’re hoping this [case] establishes a principle that these kinds of kickbacks should be illegal everywhere,” Tenneriello declared. “It’s cruel and senseless to make prisoners’ families pay for the running of the prison through their phone calls. Why should a prisoner’s child be denied that bedtime call because it’s needlessly expensive? Contact with family is known to help prisoners succeed on release.”

According to the plaintiffs, the suit is the first in the state to challenge such exorbitant commission-based jail phone contracts. See: Pearson v. Hodgson, Suffolk Superior Court (MA), Case No. 18-1360. 



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Related legal case

Pearson v. Hodgson