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HRDC Letter to Fisch, American Securities, Re Global TelLink and Human Rights Watch, 2015

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September 8, 2015

Michael G. Fisch
President and Chief Executive Officer
American Securities, LLC
299 Park Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10171

Re: Global Tel*Link and Human Rights Watch
Dear Mr. Fisch:
I write regarding the inherent conflict between your participation on the board of Human Rights
Watch and American Securities, LLC’s ownership of Global Tel*Link (GTL), this country’s
largest exploiter of the basic communication rights of some of its poorest people: prisoners and
their families.
As I’m sure you are aware, GTL is the leading telecommunications service provider serving
approximately 2,400 correctional facilities and 1.3 million prisoners in all 50 states, the District
of Columbia and Puerto Rico. GTL proudly reports on its website that it holds 31 state prison
system contracts (including 8 of the largest 10) and over 800 county jail contracts, including 32
of the largest city/county jail facilities.
GTL’s website also states: “Connecting inmates to their friends and loved ones is an essential
service with benefits for all involved.” Unfortunately, the definition of “all” apparently only
includes GTL, American Securities and the detention facilities that contract with GTL. It does
not include the families of prisoners who must choose between rent, groceries or utility bills and
expensive calls from their incarcerated loved ones. At its basic level, GTL succeeds remarkably
well in monetizing that most fundamental of all human rights: the right to communicate with
one’s family and loved ones.
While GTL claims it is committed to fulfilling “its responsibilities with the highest level of
integrity and ethics,” we submit it is inherently unethical to gouge prisoners’ families through
exorbitant telephone rates and monopoly contracts while providing kickbacks to correctional
agencies – kickbacks that are funded by income from prisoners’ family members. Prior to the
FCC’s imposition of rate caps on interstate prison and jail phone calls in February 2014, GTL
charged some of the highest rates in the nation – up to $17.30 for a 15-minute call – and the
company continues to charge high in-state rates.
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), a non-profit organization and co-founder and leader
of the national Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, has been working on reform of the prison
phone industry since 1992. The Campaign has been instrumental in providing comprehensive
data and analysis to the FCC related to prison phone rates, commissions and ancillary fees.

We realize that GTL is in the business of making money, as are you, and that exploiting the
families of prisoners through monopoly phone contracts is a legal and accepted business practice
in the U.S. for the moment. However, a conflict arises when you purport to care enough about
human rights to be a member of the board of Human Rights Watch while you profit personally
from the violation of the human rights of millions of people, including children, who have
incarcerated family members and parents.
We realize that GTL is reportedly for sale, yet the basis for that sale appears to be the potential
for diminished profits due to additional regulation by the Federal Communications Commission,
not any moral qualms about exploiting poor people who wish to communicate with their loved
ones. You are, of course, free to profit in any legal manner you so desire. But you are not free
to launder your reputation at the expense of millions of impoverished families enmeshed in
the criminal justice system. Comparably, we do not see tobacco executives nor owners of the
tobacco industry sitting on the boards of the American Cancer or Lung Associations.
According to Human Rights Watch’s mission statement, the organization “defends the rights of
people worldwide” and works to “investigate abuses, expose the facts widely, and pressure those
with power to respect rights and secure justice,” in order to “uphold human dignity and advance
the cause of human rights for all.” We submit that GTL’s exploitation of the ability of prisoners
to communicate with their families and children is the antithesis of upholding human dignity and
advancing human rights, and is in direct conflict with Human Rights Watch’s mission.
In light of this obvious ethical conflict we are duly requesting that you step down from the board
of Human Rights Watch as long as you remain affiliated with American Securities and GTL
remains a part of the American Securities portfolio.
We look forward to your response, and would appreciate hearing from you by September 22.

Sincerely,

Paul Wright
Executive Director, HRDC
cc:

Brian D. Oliver, CEO, Global Tel*Link
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, HRW

 

 

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