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No Kickbacks Campaign - a Parole Illinois Project, 2020

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INTRODUCING THE

KICKBACKS
CAMPAIGN
A PAROLE UUU~@U~ Project

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

PAGE 2

NO KICKBACKS

Thanks to conscientious State legislators, concerned
citizens, and activists both inside and out of prison in
Illinois, our State became one of the leaders in the
fight to curb exploitative prison phone rates.1 State
law now caps phone calls at 7¢ per minute2, but in
actuality, people in Illinois prisons pay 1¢ per minute.3
(This does not apply to rates for international calls,
which are both capped and charged at 23¢ per
minute.)4 That same law also prohibits ancillary
charges and service fees
for phone calls.5 This made
Illinois the state with the
lowest phone rates in the
nation for people in prison.6

Over the last two years that exploitation has grown
by leaps and bounds with the signing of the contract
between the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC)
and Global Tel Link (GTL) to sell tablet computers
and related services to incarcerated Illinoisans.
Each service purchased by an individual in the
IDOC requires a percentage of the selling price to be
kicked back to the IDOC. When the kickbacks from
Western Union and JPay are added into the equation,
incarcerated Illinoisans and
their loved ones shelled out
over one-million dollars
more in 2019 alone just to
cover the kickbacks.

Just two years after this
victory, however, we see that
there is much more to be
done to stop the exploitation
of incarcerated Illinoisans
and their loved ones. New
York City showed us that
even 1¢ per minute phone
rates are too high when
they “passed legislation to
no longer charge people in
jail costs for phone calls,
and the policy specifically
stipulated
that
the
jurisdiction could not generate any revenue from
phone calls”.7

If nothing is done, this
amount will continue to
grow. Last year (2019) was
the first year that GTL video
visits and tablets reached
all IDOC facilities, with most
services not being rolled out
until the second half of the
year. Thus, GTL will see even
greater sales and profits
during 2020 and years to
come; the IDOC will see even
greater kickbacks; and the
incarcerated and their loved
ones will see even greater exploitation. If one simply
takes December 2019 figures as a conservative
indication of the average monthly sales for 2020,
we see kickbacks (from GTL, JPay and Western
Union to IDOC) projected to grow by about 50% to
$1,965,592.40. That’s without including vending
machine commissions, tablet sales, or potentioal
kickbacks on new services like movie streaming,
publication subscriptions and legal apps that have
yet to roll out.

STOP THE
EXPLOITATION
OF
INCARCERATED
ILLINOISANS
AND THEIR
LOVED ONES.

Even as the lower phone rate has been a boon to
maintaining relationships across prison walls and
provided significant financial relief to the loved ones
of the incarcerated, it has done nothing to stop the
exploitation of them by the IDOC via other services
and products.

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

NO KICKBACKS

PAGE 3

People confined in the IDOC probably constitute the
most impoverished group of people in the state, both
as a measure of income and in real property. The IDOC
prohibits any business ventures unless a warden
expressly authorizes a person to engage in such
ventures8- the granting of which is nearly unheard
of. Thus, for incarcerated men and women, the only
employment opportunities are largely “assignments”
offered by the State. Those assignments are neither
plentiful nor lucrative, nor do they provide an
employable skill upon release.
Most people in IDOC
custody receive just
$10 per month for
“unassigned pay”9 (also

PRISON SLAVERY
Slavery is alive and well in the Illinois Department
of Corrections. Incarcerated men and women are
paid pennies per hour and are often required to work
7 days per week for months on end. Most jobs are
menial labor that fail to teach a single skill or trade
that is useful for obtaining employment upon release.
Thousands of men and women, however, have no
release date, or have one that is so far into the future
that they will not live to see it.

“The growth of public expense
associated with mass incarceration
has led many carceral systems
to push certain costs onto the
people who are under correctional
supervision. In the case of prisons
and jails, this frequently takes the
form of charges and fees associated
with telecommunications, food, basic
supplies, and access to information.”

In prison, there are no paid
vacations, no year-end bonuses,
and definitely no retirement plan,
pensions or 401ks. The latter of
which are extremely inhumane.
Imagine working day-in and
day-out for slave wages, then
when your body breaks down
and you can no longer work a
job you are unceremoniously
dumped back in your cell to die
of old age or medical neglect, all
while being further impoverished
as your “pay” is again reduced
from an already measly $28.80
back to the $10 per month for
“unassigned pay.”

known as “State Pay”)
to live on. This amount
has not increased
in the last 40 years
despite: A) inflation;
B) the IDOC drastically
reducing the amount
of basic necessities
it provides to the
people it confines;
and C) the IDOC
increasingly tacking
— S T EPHEN R A HER 10
on “surcharges” and
“commissions”
(i.e.
The IDOC does this to hundreds,
kickbacks) on products and services purchased
possibly thousands of men and women. Why?
by the incarcerated. The result is that this $10 is
Because they can; because society not only allows
extremely inadequate to cover the cost of purchasing
it, but encourages the mistreatment of people in
clothes, toilet paper, and food (to supplement the
prison; and because this part of the carceral state
meager, poor quality fare the State provides) for an
(mass incarceration) cannot be maintained without
entire month.
slave labor.

Imagine if the State was required to hire people at
prevailing union wages, or hell, even at minimum
wage for every job currently done by people in prison.

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

PAGE 4

NO KICKBACKS

The cost of operating the IDOC is already
Moreover, people in prison have been oppressed,
unsustainable (thus all the talk of sentencing reform,
dehumanized, and devalued to the point that their
decriminalization of marijuana, etc.) The primary
labor is often seen as both forfeit by society, and
expense of a prison system is staff - correctional
valueless to the incarcerated themselves in the
officers (guards) and administrators.
sense that they view it as a privilege
Now imagine if each of the thousands
bestowed upon them by the State
of incarcerated workers were paid
rather than their own personal
So, even if I work fullnot only $2,000 or more per month,
asset that can be leveraged for their
time
for
the
IDOC
at
but also all the benefits correctional
benefit.
$28.80
per
month
staff currently receive. You’re talking
(and facilitate mass
about hundreds of millions of dollars
Whether they are paid the $10
in additional expenses for the IDOC to
“unassigned pay” or the $28.80
incarceration with my
operate.
“assigned pay” each month, people
labor), I would still need
in the IDOC are unable to afford the
to
save
for
5
months
Even the $28.80 that the vast
products and services offered by
to purchase a tablet,
majority of “assignments” pay does
GTL without outside assistance.
not equate to a living wage in prison.
and then forego buying
That’s because, not only does the
hygiene items if I want to This trifecta of the IDOC: 1) Denial
IDOC deprive people in its custody of
of a living wage or other economic
listen
to
music?
adequate basic necessities, but the
opportunities; 2) refusal to provide
IDOC jacks up the price to purchase
basic necessities like food, clothing
such items on prison commissaries by
and hygiene items; and 3) constant
25% or more, and demands kickbacks
charging
of
surcharges
and
for all services.
kickbacks – means that there is an
•
increased need for incarcerated
So, why do people in prison agree to
men and women to rely on family
work for slave wages? Partly because,
and friends in the community for
for extremely destitute people, $28.80
financial assistance. Therefore, the
is still nearly three times better than
vast majority of money spent in
$10 per month. Mostly, however, it is
prisons and thus the vast majority
because the IDOC has an immense
of the kickbacks and surcharges
ability to coerce incarcerated people
going to the IDOC are not being paid
to work for the state. Some people
by the incarcerated themselves but
can earn good time credit through
rather by their innocent families and
11
working for the State. For others it
friends.
is just through sheer desperation. For
instance, in maximum security prisons
where people are mostly forced to
spend 22-24 hours per day in tiny cells
with another person, people are willing
to be slaves just to get out of their cells.

?

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

•

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

NO KICKBACKS

PAGE 5

These are people who are already paying taxes which
are supposed to cover the cost of incarcerating
people. Moreover, it is no secret that the vast
majority of people in prison came from economically
depressed communities12, and their incarceration
may have greatly increased their loved ones’
economic distress.

Thus, each increased cost to a family member to
assist or communicate with their loved one in prison
not only adds to the economic burden imposed by
their loved one’s incarceration, but also increases
both their resentment towards their incarcerated
loved one and their resentment towards the State
which is exploiting their situation.

That’s because, when a family member becomes
incarcerated, that person may have been the
primary breadwinner, or at least someone who
contributed to the financial stability of the family.
That income is now lost upon incarceration. Add to
that the fact that incarceration often brings financial
expenditures for the family — hiring a lawyer, travel
costs for visits, time off from work to attend court
dates and visit, commissary, and more — all of which
leaves the family even more financially strapped.

That resentment works directly against the Illinois
Department of Corrections’ professed goal of
rehabilitation13, because “family contact has been
consistently shown to lower recidivism14.” Whether
that increased resentment manifests itself in
damaged familial relationships or a refusal to pay
the fees to maintain contact with their incarcerated
loved one, the result is the same - decreased family
contact and potentially increased recidivism (which
translates into increased crime and increased costs
for the state).

Why does the Illinois Department of Corrections feel it is
okay to exploit our friends and families?

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

PAGE 6

NO KICKBACKS

KICKBACKS TO IDOC
FOR MONEY TRANSFERS

In order to help their loved ones survive prison,
the friends and family members of incarcerated
Illinoisans collectively send tens of millions of
dollars into Illinois prisons each year. This is done
in hundreds of thousands of transactions, the
vast majority of which require a processing fee
with a kickback for the IDOC. For instance, in 2019
JPay processed 386,162 money transfers and
Western Union processed another 250,181 where
they charged a fee, and where the IDOC received
a kickback. GTL alone processed thousands
of money transfers totaling
$7,342,173.50 and kicking back
$146,843.47 to the IDOC 15.

money orders mailed to JPay16. This remains the
only way to send money to someone incarcerated
by the IDOC without paying a fee or kickback.
Thus, JPay has always worked to discourage this
practice — first by making it difficult to obtain the
required form needed to accompany the money
order; and then by delaying the processing of
money orders for weeks.
All other means of sending money to someone in
the IDOC involve electronically wiring it through
one of the three approved
companies and paying a fee to
the company (see table on p.7).
Each time someone does so,
the IDOC collects a kickback (or
“commission” as the IDOC likes
to call it) from the company17.
$lli6,Bli3.li7

Total Kickbacks
to IDOC in 2019

Prior to 2013, money transfers
were done by simply mailing
a cashiers check or money
GTL:
order to the prison holding
JPAY:
their loved one. There was no
WUnion:
fee or kickback, or even any
third-party involved, other than
the cost of the money order or
cashier’s check. Once the IDOC
signed its contract with JPay, the IDOC refused to
permit this anymore. This saved the IDOC untold
thousands of man hours and dollars associated
with staff processing incoming money orders and
cashier’s checks at each prison.

FOR MONEY TRANSFERS:
$193,081.00
$250,lli6.00

When one adds up all of the
kickbacks to the IDOC, they
cost the senders a total of
$590,070.47 in 2019 alone.
When we consider that the vast
majority of the tens of millions of dollars sent into
IDOC facilities each year is spent at commissaries
where the IDOC added a 25% surcharge (meaning
the IDOC is taking ~$2.5 million of every $10 million
sent in), these kickbacks on money transfers are
especially heinous and exploitative.

Total: $590,070.lt7

The only way people could continue to mail
in money was to mail money orders to JPay’s
headquarters in Florida and pay a $3 processing
fee with a 50¢ kickback going to the IDOC. After
an uproar by incarcerated people and their loved
ones, the contract with JPay was amended to
take out both the processing fee and kickback on

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

Through its “surcharges”, “kickbacks”, and denial
of basic necessities, the IDOC is effectively
siphoning millions of dollars from largely low
income communities by preying on people’s love
for their incarcerated friend or family member.

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

NO KICKBACKS

PAGE 7

COST TO TRANSFER FUNDS: BY COMPANY
COMPANY

GTL

AMOUNT OF $
TRANSFERRED

I

$.01 - $30.00

$3.50

$30.01 - $100.00

$5.75

$100.01 - $200.00

$6.75

$200.01 - $300.00

$8.95

$.01 - $9.99

$2.95

$10.00 - $19.99

$3.95

$20.00 - $49.99

$6.95

$50.00 - $99.99

$7.95

$100.00 - $300.00

$10.95

Phone

Online

JPay

Western
Union

I

COMPANY FEE

I

KICKBACK TO IDOC

2%

I

of amount wired18

50¢

per transaction19

FEE IF THERE WERE
NO KICKBACK
$3.50 - $2.90*
$5.15 - $3.75*
$4.75 - $2.75*
$4.95 - $2.95*
$2.45
$3.45
$6.45
$7.45
$10.45

$1.00 - $30.00

$3.95

$2.95

$31.00 - $75.00

$6.95

$5.95

$76.00 - $200.00

$8.95

$201.00 - $300.00

$9.95

$1.00 - $30.00

$5.95

$31.00 - $100.00

$7.95

$1

per transaction20

$7.95
$8.95
$4.95
$6.95

$101.00 - $200.00

$9.95

$8.95

$201.00 - $600.00

$11.95

$10.95

*- GTL is the only company that makes less money as the amount transferred increases. That is because it is the only
company that provides a higher kickback as the amount transferred increases - all of which comes out of GTL’s fee.

ZERO INTEREST
FOR RESIDENTS

IDOC SURCHARGES

Once an incarcerated person receives money
(either from the IDOC as “state pay” or slave
wages, or from a loved one on the street, etc.)
he or she cannot simply spend it right away.
Instead, they either have to wait days or weeks
to spend it at the commissary, or wait weeks or
months to mail it out.21

Due to the fact that there is only one place for
incarcerated people to purchase necessities and
other small items for their personal use, the vast
majority of the money people receive will be spent
at the prison commissary. There the IDOC places a
minimum 25% surcharge on all items sold. (State
law allegedly caps the surcharge at 25% 23, but the
IDOC has repeatedly exceeded this, garnering the
department millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains24 at
the expense of people in prison, their families, and
friends. Illinois courts have ruled that people in prison
have no right to enforce the cap25.)
This surcharge reduces purchasing power by at least
25%; effectively reduces “unassigned pay” to $7.50
or less per month (from $10); and reduces “assigned
pay” to $21.60 or less per month (from $28.80).

While the money sits in the account it draws
interest, which is then taken by the IDOC for
the “Residents’ Benefit Fund” 22. Unfortunately,
there is very little accountability as to how
these funds are spent and to what extent the
residents actually “benefit” from them.

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

ON COMMISSARY: 25%

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

PAGE 8

NO KICKBACKS

KICKBACKS TO IDOC
FOR VIDEO VISITS (2019)

Beginning in 2018, GTL began installing kiosks in IDOC facilities to allow people outside of prison to pay to
“visit” someone who is incarcerated via an interactive online video system similar to Skype, but with much
more cumbersome security procedures, and of much poorer quality.

“The Department
shall not make a
commission or
profit from video
calling services.”
- 730 ILCS 5/3-7-2(f )
(effective January 1, 2019)

In order to try to prevent the exploitative practices seen for
decades with prison phone companies, activists and others
succeeded in getting a law passed to bar the IDOC from: A)
replacing contact visits with video visits26; and B) receiving
kickbacks or “commissions on fees charged for video visits.”27
The law became effective on January 1, 2019.
Nevertheless, since then, the IDOC has continuously received a
nearly 25% commission for each video visit in violation of State
law, and at the expense of the incarcerated’s family and friends
paying for the visits. (All video visits must be initiated and paid
for by the non-incarcerated). Thus, once again, it is the innocent
loved one being exploited by the IDOC.

As confirmed by both the IDOC and GTL, for every paid video visit the person is being charged 25¢ per
minute, with 6¢ per minute being kicked back to the IDOC.28 In 2019 alone, these unlawful commissions on
video visits totaled $77,041.8429 in ill-gotten gains for the Illinois Department of Corrections. Had the IDOC
followed the law, GTL could have reduced charges as follows:
Visit Length

Price with Kickbacks

Price without Kickbacks

25 minutes

$6.25

$4.75

55 minutes

$13.75

$10.45

$77,041.84

AMOUNT THE IDOC RECEIVED AS
COMMISSIONS FROM VIDEO CALLING
SERVICES DURING 2019 IN VIOLATION
OF THE ABOVE STATE LAW.
ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

NO KICKBACKS

PAGE 9

GTL 2.0 TABLETS

KICKBACKS TO THE IDOC

The arrival of GTL tablets gave the IDOC an additional product to sell
in its commissaries and reap a 25% surcharge off of. (See box on p.7)
So, while GTL provides the 2.0 tablets to the IDOC at $99.99 each30,
the IDOC turns around and sells them to incarcerated individuals at
$124.9931. This $25 markup garnered the IDOC $239,525.00 in 2019
(they sold 9,581 tablets that year)32.

$22,864.53

The IDOC is not required to place any surcharge on any item.
They choose to do so. Just as they choose to request kickbacks or
“commissions”, and choose to award the vendor that provides the
best kickback rather than the best product
or service for the IDOC population.
As the Prison Policy Initiative noted in
its review of best practices for tablet
procurement:

“The power to determine whether a
tablet program will be exploitative rests with
a correctional agency’s procurement officials,
because they negotiate the contract with the
tablet vendor.” 33

IDOC
ADDS
$
00
25
to the price of
each 2.0 tablet,
reaping nearly
a quarter of a

Therefore, if the IDOC wanted to stop
million dollars
exploiting the incarcerated population, their
families, and their friends, they could easily
in 2019 alone
negotiate contracts that don’t demand any
kickbacks or “commissions”. They could also
stop adding the $25 surcharge on tablets any time they wanted to.
After all, the statute states “up to” 25%34.
Currently, for someone whose only income is “unassigned pay,” they
would have to forego hygiene items, snacks, writing their family, etc.
for over an entire year just to save up enough money to be able to
purchase a 2.0 tablet. For someone whose only income is “assigned
pay”, they would need to work full time for the IDOC for at least 41/2
months to purchase a tablet. Neither one of whom would be able to
then afford the services available each month.

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

FOR GAMES

With the rollout of the 2.0
tablets, GTL also began offering
a video game streaming
service. The games offered
are of extremely poor quality
and are mostly offered as free
apps in the free world to nonincarcerated people. (Games
like Solitaire and Mahjong).
While they are poor quality
by today’s gaming standards,
for people in prison they can
become
highly
addictive,
causing people to waste hours
upon hours playing them. Thus,
they are commonly referred
to by prison guards as the
“electronic babysitter.”
Nevertheless, these games
are not free. GTL requires
one to rent (or stream) them
like it does music (see box on
p.10); and the IDOC demands
a 20% kickback on any game
streaming as well35.
In 2019, the IDOC reaped
$22,864.53 in kickbacks from
GTL game streaming sales.
Term

Price

Kickback

Price w/o
Kickback

30 Days

$5.99

$1.20

$4.79

90 Days

$16.20

$3.24

$12.96

180 Days

$26.95

$5.39

$21.56

365 Days

$43.25

$8.65

$34.60

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

PAGE 10

NO KICKBACKS

NO KICKBACKS

PAGE 11

KICKBACKS TO IDOC FOR “EMAILS”: $187,385.00
As noted previously, maintaining contact with family
and friends outside of prison while incarcerated is
extremely important for a successful reentry into
society upon release. Thus, the introduction of an
electronic messaging system (or “email”) for people
in prison has the potential to contribute greatly to
reducing recidivism.
Unfortunately, two things hinder its full potential:
1. The horrendous quality of the GTL system; and
2. The IDOC’s demand of a 50% kickback on each
message sent in or out of its facilities.
GTL’s system prohibits the incarcerated from
initiating contact with anyone in the free world
through its messaging system. Instead, if anyone
wants to contact someone in an Illinois prison,
they must first set up an account of their own
with GTL, purchase message credits and add the
incarcerated person as a contact on their account.
This cumbersome process alone discourages many
people from “emailing” anyone in prison via GTL.
Moreover, GTL’s service is so poorly created and
operated that trying to send messages is extremely
frustrating as users are:
• Constantly denied access to the system
• Constantly frustrated when, after typing out their
messages, they are arbitrarily erased prior to
being sent due to technical glitches
• Unable to send the same message to several
people at once without having to cut and paste
the message for each recipient
• Often not notified when a message is sent to
them from an incarcerated person.
GTL has also thus far failed to allow for the sending
of any attachments like pictures, which was
supposed to be an available option.

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

(Additionally, although State law prohibits the IDOC
from using denial of mail as a disciplinary method,36
the IDOC bans messaging while in disciplinary
segregation, B-grade, or C-grade. This policy would
seem to violate that same law — as “emails” are
essentially mail — as well as incarcerated men’s and
women’s constitutional rights to free speech.37 This
policy also disrupts continuity of communications,
especially where this is the only means the
incarcerated
has
of
contacting someone.)
Add to all that the fact that
the IDOC is intentionally
discouraging families and
others from using the
regular postal system to
mail letters (where the
IDOC does not receive
a kickback), as a way
to encourage the use of
the GTL system (where
the IDOC does receive
kickbacks).
After
the
signing of the contract
with GTL, the IDOC
implemented new rules
about mail coming into
Illinois prisons.

20¢
(cost of each
message credit)

10¢

10 ¢

to

to

GTL IDOC
for

for providing
service

???

Not only do the new rules prohibit letters with
anything written in marker, crayon, or highlighter,
but they also took away any ability to challenge
the denial of any letter or package, by allowing
IDOC staff to just return it to the sender prior to any
notice to the recipient or sender. So, while many
people write letters in colored ink pens (which is
still allowed) they will often be unceremoniously
and unjustly returned to the sender under the false
claim that they were written in “marker”.

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

Moreover, the rules prohibiting crayons, markers,
and highlighters means that many of the letters
and drawings arriving from incarcerated men’s
and women’s young children, grandchildren,
nieces, nephews, etc. are sent back.
On top of all of that, either intentionally or due to
a lack of competent staff, IDOC facilities routinely
delay delivering regular mail by weeks, which has
the effect of increasing
use of the messaging
Each message credit
system, as “emails” are
usually only delayed by
is good for a single
days. This all garners
message of up to
widespread resentment
2,000 characters, but
of both GTL and the
trying to send more
IDOC (and its staff) by
both loved ones and the
than 1,500 characters
incarcerated. Especially
often results in the
when it is done in an
message being erased.
effort to exploit people
financially and not out
These technical glitchof any true security
es encourage more
concerns.

messages of shorter
length and thus greater
profits and kickbacks.

As Stephen Raher notes:

“When facilities receive
commissions from an
electronic messaging
system, they may boost commission revenue by
either banning postal mail or implementing
policies that may make mail cumbersome and
impractical.”38

Theoretically, the kickback for both incoming and
outgoing messages is either 33% or 50% of the
purchase price. The actual amount of the kickback

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

is the same however every time a message is sent:
10¢. GTL sells “message credits” either for 30¢
each, or bundles of 20 for $4.00 (i.e. 20¢ each). 39
Since the IDOC demands a 10¢ kickback on each
message, this equates to a 33% kickback on sales
of individual credits or a 50% kickback on sales of
bundles.
Hardly anyone purchases individual credits,
however, instead choosing to save money by
purchasing bundles. Thus, nearly everyone is
paying a 50% kickback to the IDOC to send each
“email”.
While it is possible for people with a GTL account
in the free world to purchase message credits and
then transfer them to their friends and family on
the inside, many of the credits used by people
inside are purchased at the prisons’ commissaries.
Thus, the 33% or 50% kickback (or “commission”)
would seem to violate the same state law that
was supposed to cap commissary surcharges at
25%.40 (See box on p.7). Regardless of where they
are purchased or by whom, the IDOC receives
their kickback.
During 2019, the IDOC received $88,477.80 in
kickbacks on incoming messages, and $98,907.20
in kickbacks on outgoing messages. If the IDOC
would stop exploiting people by demanding its
kickbacks on “emails”, the cost to the incarcerated
and their loved ones would be 10¢ - a fraction of
what it is now (20¢ or 30¢). Like the reduced cost
of phone calls, this would not only collectively save
people hundreds of thousands of dollars per year,
but also facilitate strengthening relationships
which helps reduce recidivism and increase public
safety - alleged goals of the IDOC.41

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

PAGE 12

NO KICKBACKS

KICKBACKS TO IDOC FOR
MUSIC IN 2019 = $272,067.45
IN 2019, as the IDOC and GTL began expanding tablet accessibility to all IDOC facilities, GTL also
began transitioning from offering music downloads (sales of individual songs) to solely offering a
music streaming service.
Previously, people in the handful of IDOC facilities that sold GTL 1.5 “MP3 players” were able to
purchase songs that they could keep on their devices permanently. The songs cost $1.80 each, or
20 songs for $32, and the IDOC received a 20% kickback (11% or 12.5% respectively) on each song
purchased. During 2019, the IDOC received $133,291 .00 in kickbacks on music downloads.
People in IDOC facilities that only offer the GTL 2.0 “tablets” can only “rent” the music, which they
pay to stream on a monthly basis at exorbitant prices (see box to the left below.) GTL offers four
purchase plans for its streaming services (see box to the right below). Each of which includes a 20%
kickback to the IDOC42 . Thus, the IDOC’s kickback on music sales effectively increased from around
12% to 20%.
Why II
do #I M4l!llf
have Compared to music streaming services offered in the
k!IJII
free world (which offer a wider variety of music, and don’t
to (fjjf,
pay a fir
20%
constantly deny streaming service for hours or days at a
kickback to
K#l!tf!IJ/11!{
Tl
the
IDOC Jf!J§f
just time like GTL does.) GTL charges more than 2-5 times as
Wlf #Ill
much (see box to the left below.) Some of this additional
to !JJ§fI!J!
listen to
cost is to cover the kickbacks to the IDOC.
music?
#Jf!J§#I!

r1

r1

r1

FREE-WORLD MUSIC STREAMING
COMPARED TO GTL
3 0 D AY S U B S C R I P T I O N
Pandora Plus
iHeartRadio
Amazon
SoundCloud
Google Play
Tidal
YouTube Music

$4.99
$5.99
$9.99
$9.99
$9.99
$10.00
$11.99

GTL
GTL w/o kickback

$24.99
$19.99

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

In the first half of 2019, music streaming was only
available in two facilities (Decatur and Kewanee). By
November, streaming services had reached all IDOC
facilities except Joliet Adult Treatment Center. Despite
limited availability overall, the IDOC received $138,776.45
in kickbacks from GTL for music streaming services last
year.
In total, the IDOC demanded over a quarter of a million
dollars ($272,067.45) in kickbacks in 2019 in return for
incarcerated men and women to be able to listen to music
at inflated and exploitative prices.

GTL MUSIC STREAMING PRICES
WITH & WITHOUT IDOC KICKBACKS
Term

Price

Kickback to
IDOC

Price w/o
kickback

30 days

$24.99

$5.00

$19.99

90 days

$67.50

$13.50

$54.00

180 days

$119.95

$23.99

$95.96

365 days

$199.99

$40.00

$159.99

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

NO KICKBACKS

PAGE 13

KICKBACKS TO THE IDOC

FOR VENDING
MACHINE SALES
43

(2019):

$576,638.21
Similar to the 25% surcharge the
IDOC attaches to items purchased at
the commissaries the incarcerated
shop at; 25% of all profits derived
from any vending machines in IDOC
visiting rooms are likewise kicked
back to the IDOC44. Thus, every soda
or snack bought by a visitor to an
IDOC facility is an additional point of
exploitation by the IDOC.
These “commissions” add up
quickly. In 2019, the plethora of
vending machine contractors
kicked back a total of $576,638.21
to the IDOC.45 If visitors wonder why
the prices are so outrageous, that
is ¼ of the reason right there.

“LET US GET THIS STRAIGHT,
THE IDOC...
intentionally keeps us
impoverished to coerce us
into slave labor;

demands a kickback
whenever someone wires
us money;

exploits our labor
to facilitate our overincarceration;

denies us adequate
basic necessities to maintain
our health and hygiene;

exploits our friends’ and
families’ love for us;

...charges us a minimum 25%
surcharge to purchase basic necessities
that the IDOC is supposed to supply us;

Ci) l Ci)
~

adds $25 to the price of
each 2.0 tablet;

demands a 50% kickback
anytime we want to communicate
via “email” with our loved ones;

demands a 20% kickback
if we want to listen to music
or play video games;

TOP 10 PRISON VISITING
ROOMS PROVIDING THE
MOST KICKBACKS:
~

1. Stateville
2. Dixon
3. Logan
4. Peoria ATC
5. Sheridan
6. Centralia
7. Hill
8. Taylorville
9. Western Illinois
10. Illinois River

$48,522.91
$43,253.37
$39,722.91
$37,811.29
$37,742.41
$25,642.78
$25,287.95
$24,835.85
$24,310.85
$19,753.43

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

demands a 25%
kickback on snacks
to our visitors;

and unlawfully demands
an almost 25% kickback on
video visits...

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

...and we’re
supposed to respect
the government?”

@ ParoleIllinois

PAGE 14

NO KICKBACKS

CONCLUSION
In 2019, the incarcerated and their non-incarcerated loved ones spent nearly two million dollars ($1,965,592.40)
paying the IDOC’s lawful and unlawful kickbacks (commissions and surcharges on tablets). That does not
include the additional millions of dollars in surcharges they paid on non-tablet-related commissary purchases.
(Parole Illinois hopes to produce a more detailed report in the future documenting not only those additional
surcharges but also attempting to track how the IDOC is spending those funds).
The IDOC has never explained why it feels it is necessary to receive any of the kickbacks from the abovementioned products or services; or how exploiting incarcerated people and their friends and families helps
achieve any penological goal. We know that several other correctional departments that contract with GTL for
tablet services - such as those in Vermont, Delaware, Maine, and South Carolina - do not receive any portion of
tablet revenue.46 Therefore we demand that the IDOC: cease violating state law; renegotiate all contracts with
vendors to remove any kickbacks or “commissions” from being paid to the IDOC; and negotiate commensurately
lower prices on all services.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Governor J.B. Pritzker claims to want to make Illinois “a beacon for humanity,” and IDOC Director Rob Jeffries
has repeatedly talked of increasing access to communications between incarcerated people and their families.
Therefore, in an effort to give them the benefit of the doubt, the first step of the No Kickbacks Campaign will
consist of simply asking them to voluntarily cease exploiting people in prison, their families, and friends.
If you would like to help in that effort, please write, call, and email the Governor and IDOC Director and
ask them to stop the exploitation by: A) cease accepting commissions from GTL, JPay, and Western Union;
B) renegotiate the contracts with all three companies to reduce their prices for all services commensurately;
and C) cease adding surcharges to tablets and other products.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker
207 State Capitol
Springfield, IL 62706
(217) 782-6830
www.illinois.gov

Director Rob Jeffreys
Illinois Department of Corrections
100 West Randolph Street, Ste. 4-200
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 814-3017
www.illinois.gov/idoc

If the Governor and IDOC choose to keep exploiting people, the next steps will be litigation (to stop the unlawful
commissions), and legislation (to bar IDOC from A) accepting kickbacks/commissions, and B) charging
surcharges at its commissaries).

JOSEPH DOLE Policy Director, Parole Illinois © December 2020
ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

NO KICKBACKS

PAGE 15

NOTES/CITATIONS/RESOURCES/REFERENCES
1. Brian Dolinar, “Illinois Prison Phone Rates are Lowest Following Grassroots
Activism,” Truth-Out, Feb. 24, 2019.
2. 730 ILCS 5/3-4-1 (a-5).
3. Securus phone contract.
4. 730 ILCS 5/3-4-1(a-5).
5. Ibid.
6. Dolinar supra, note 1.
7. Alex Harris, Tyler Smith, and Emmi Obara, “Justice ‘cost points’: Examination of
privatization with public systems of justice”. Criminology & Public Policy, 2019;
18:343-359, at 356.
8. 20 Illinois Administrative Code Section 445 (Unauthorized Business Ventures).
9. IDOC Administrative Directive 05.03.103A.II.E.9.
10. Stephen Raher (Abstract), “The Company Store and the Literally Captive
Market: Consumer Law in Prisons and Jails,” 17 Hastings Race & Poverty L. J.
3-86 (2020), at p.3.
11. 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3.
12. See e.g. Peter Wagner, “Incarceration Is Not an Equal Opportunity Punishment”
Prison Policy Initiative, August 28, 2012.
13. See e.g. 730 ILCS 5/1-1-2 “The purposes of this Code of Corrections are to: a)...
permit the recognition of differences in rehabilitation possibilities among
individual offenders;... and d) restore offenders to useful citizenship” as well
as 730 ILCS 5/3-2-2 (1)(a) and (d) (West 2020).
14. Drew Kukorowski, “The Price to Call Home: Sanctioned Monopolization in the
Prison Phone Industry,” Prison Legal News. October 2012. p.20-24, at p.20
citing Nancy G. Lavigne, Rebecca L. Naser, Lisa E. Brooks, and Jennifer L.
Castro, “Examining the Effect of Incarceration and In-Prison Family Contact on
Prisoners’ Family Relationships.” 21 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
314, 316 (2005).
15. Illinois Department of Corrections (response to requests under the Illinois
Freedom of Information Act).
16. State of Illinois Contract Amendment JPay Inc. TFED4261, TFED425-1 (July 19,
2013).
17. “State of Illinois Contract Amendment” between GTL and the IDOC dated
September 27, 2017 (#0115021) p. 3, section 2.2; Dec. 2, 2009 contract
between IDOC and Western Union, p.41; and Contract between JPay and the
IDOC, Section 3, 1 (2011).
18. “State of Illinois Contract Amendment “between GTL and the IDOC dated Sept.
27, 2017 (#0115021) p. 3, section 2.2.
19. Contract between JPay and the IDOC, Section 3.1 (2011).
20. Dec. 2, 2009 contract between IDOC and Western Union, p.41 (“Per transaction
incentive payment to the Agency: $1.00).
21. The IDOC is supposed to process outgoing checks within 10 business days (20
Ill. Admin. Code 205.40) but certain prisons lack competent staff, so the wait
can extend for several months.
22. 730 ILCS 5/3-4-3(a).
23. 730 ILCS 5/3-7-2a.
24. In 2007, the Illinois Auditor General reported that the IDOC was unlawfully
exceeding the statutorily allowed surcharge by an additional 7%-9%. Illinois
Department of Corrections, Department-Wide Audit, For the Year Ended June
30, 2006, released June 20, 2007; State of Illinois, Department of Corrections
“Compliance Examination for the Two Years Ended June 30, 2018.” See
also Joseph R. Dole “Illinois Prisoners Bilked Out of Millions Through DOC
Commissary Surcharges,” Prison Legal News, March 2010, p.24.

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

25. See e.g. Dole v. Randle, 406 Ill. App. 3d 1221 (Feb. 28, 2011)(“Internal regulations
such as restrictions on commissary pricing are not intended to confer
private right of action, based on either statutory or constitutional claims
upon inmates.”); Jackson v. Randle, 354 Ill. Dec. 256, 259 (Sept. 9, 2011)(“DOC
regulations and the Unified Code were designed to provide guidance to prison
officials in the administration of prisons, not to create more rights for inmates
than those that are constitutionally required.”); and Ruhl v. DOC, 2015 IL App
(3d) 130728, ¶ 25 (same).
26. 730 ILCS 5/3-7-2(f-10)(eff. Jan 1, 2019).
27. 730 ILCS 5/3-7-2(f)(eff. Jan 1, 2019).
28. See e.g. “State of Illinois Contract Amendment” between Global Tel Link
Corporation and the IDOC dated September 27, 2017 (#0115021) p. 3 section
2.2, and monthly Vispay statements for 2019 recording commission payments
to IDOC for video visits.
29. Simple FOIA requests for all monthly Vispay statements for 2019 showed that
the IDOC received more than $6,000 per month in commissions for video visits.
30. “State of Illinois Contract Amendment” (0115021) dated Sept. 27, 2017.
31. Stateville Correctional Center commissary price list.
32. IDOC response to FOIA request made in July 2020.
33. Stephen Raher, “Best practices for prison and jail tablet procurement.” Prison
Policy Initiative, Feb. 7, 2020.
34. 730 ILCS 5/3-7-2a.
35. “State of Illinois Contract Amendment” between GTL and the IDOC dated Sept.
27, 2017 (#0115021), p.3, section 2.2.
36. 730 ILCS 5/3-8-7(b)(1).
37. United States Constitutional Amendment 1; Illinois Constitution of 1970, Article
I, Sections 4 and 6.
38. Stephen Raher, “The Company Store and the Literally Captive Market:
Consumer Law in Prisons and Jails,” 17 Hastings Race & Poverty L.J. 3-86
(2020), p. 14.
39. “State of Illinois Contract Amendment” between GTL and the IDOC dated Sept.
27, 2017 (#0115021), p.3, Section 2.2.
40. 730 ILCS 5/3-7-2a (“If a facility maintains a commissary or commissaries
serving inmates, the selling prices for all goods shall be sufficient to cover the
costs of the goods and an additional charge of up to... 25% for non-tobacco
products.”).
41. See note 13 supra.
42. “State Contract Amendment” between GTL and the IDOC dated September 27,
2017 (#0115021), p.3, section 2.2.
43. We had originally intended to include all vending machine kickbacks in
the overall calculation of this report as well as make a projection for 2020.
However, the IDOC’s complete ban on in-person visits due to the COVID-19
pandemic has likely decimated vending machine sales from April 2020 until
visits resume, and thus decimated the kickbacks on those sales as well.
44. E.g. the contract between Stateville Correctional Center and Donnie Boy
Vending (2013-MOU-020-DRS, May 28, 2013), like that for each facility states
“The VENDOR shall pay to Stateville Correctional Center, DOC where the
services are provided a commission of 25% for visitors and 10% for employees
on all net sales, less taxes and cost of goods, from the vending machines each
month. The commission rates are statutory mandates set forth in Section
30(e) of the Blind Vendors Act, 20 ILCS 2421/30 (e).” (Attachment 1, Section 2
Vendor, Subsection (d.)).
45. FOIA requests made to IDOC for commissions received during 2019 for vending
machine sales in all facilities.
46. Mack Finkel and Wanda Bertram, “More States are signing harmful “free
prison tablet” contracts.” March 27, 2019.

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

This report was researched and written by Joseph Dole, Policy Director and Co-Founder of Parole Illinois.

Parole Illinois is a non-profit corporation founded by men
in Stateville Prison and their allies outside of prison.
Parole Illinois seeks to end death-by-incarceration,
drastically reduce the long-term prison population in
Illinois, and stop the exploitation of people in prison,
their friends, and families.

If you like this report or believe in our cause, please consider
making a tax-deductible donation at www.ParoleIllinois.org
Special thanks to Raul Dorado, Bernard McKinley, Benny Rios, and Jimmy Soto for reviewing
the draft of this report; Davin Pasek from Paradise Copies for his graphic design work; and
our allies, the Real Cost of Prisons Project for their generous financial support and Lois
Ahrens for her work in support of this project.

realcostofprisons.org

ParoleIllinois.org
ParoleIllinois@gmail.com

Parole Illinois
601 S. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60612

IJL

@ ParoleIllinois

 

 

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