by Chad Marks
In a lawsuit filed on January 29, 2019, Securus Technologies, Inc., one of the nation’s two largest prison telecom companies, accused the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) of ignoring provisions of the Florida Constitution when exercising budgeting and appropriation powers, and doing so at the expense of prisoners and their families.
Securus had provided prison phone services to the FDOC for over a decade. The company also owns JPay, which provides money transfers, video calling and other services for Florida prisoners. In December 2018, the FDOC awarded a 10-year telecom contract to the company’s main competitor, Global Tel*Link (GTL).
In its lawsuit, Securus claimed the contract was improper because it had offered the best value to the state as required by Florida procurement laws. It lost the FDOC contract, Securus argued, because GTL agreed to provide $150 million worth of goods and services to the state’s prison system that the Florida legislature had decided not to fund.
Securus contended that its reply to the FDOC’s invitation to negotiate (ITN) showed that it was the top-ranked vendor by the Department’s evaluation team, as it offered the best phone services and lowest calling rates, which serve to promote family communication and in turn lower recidivism.
That was the ITN’s purported goal, but as evidenced by recordings cited in the lawsuit, Kasey Faulk, chief of the FDOC’s Bureau of Procurement and a member of its negotiation team, was willing to instead accept the value-added services offered by GTL. Faulk made clear she was looking for hundreds of iPhones, expensive contraband-detection systems, new radios for prison guards and other incentives. GTL also reportedly offered Dell computers and a virtual gun range. Faulk described those items as “icing on the cake,” and said the negotiation team would be “jazzed” about the perks.
In order to obtain many of the value-added items, the FDOC requested a best and final offer from all ITN bidders, while setting a fixed phone rate that was 325 percent higher than the lowest existing rate and adding a $0.99 fee each time prisoners add money to their prepaid calling accounts. That would result in prisoners and their family members paying an additional $3.5 million annually, essentially to fund things “wholly unrelated” to the telecom contract, according to Securus.
“While the substantial rate increase and $0.99 funding fee may be conducive to obtaining the $150 million in value-added services the department has attempted to obtain through the inmate telephone contract, such increases do not assist with – and actually thwart – the [invitation to negotiate]’s published goals of ‘reduc[ing] recidivism through increased family and re-unification and re-entry efforts’ and ‘ensuring a quality telephone service with reasonable and justifiable telephone call rate charges for inmates’ families and friends similar to those available to the public at large,’” Securus wrote in its complaint.
“[R]ather than faithfully execute its delegated authority by requesting and collecting contracted inmate-telephone commissions for deposit into the general revenue fund, the department demanded that vendors fulfill a department wish list of unrelated goods and services,” the company added. “Put differently, the department has created a slush fund, funded by inmates’ families and friends, to bankroll the department’s desired purchases, circumventing the mandated – and nonexistent – legislative approval and appropriation.”
Securus’ lawsuit, which remains pending, asks the court to issue a Writ of Quo Warranto; that is, to require FDOC Secretary Mark Inch to prove by what authority he has negotiated and executed the department’s telecom contract. See: Securus Technologies, Inc. v. FDOC, Circuit Court for Leon County (FL), Case No. 2019 CA 000185.
Notably, it’s ironic that Securus is accusing GTL and prison officials of increasing costs for prisoners and their families, given that Securus has long price-gouged prisoners by charging inflated prison and jail phone rates. More likely, the company is simply upset that its competitor obtained the lucrative FDOC contract by using a strategy it did not think of itself.
Sources: law360.com, jacksonville.com, eji.org
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