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Profiting Off Lifelines, ACLU Nebraska, 2017

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Profiting
Off Lifelines

Nebraska County Jail
Phone Systems Lead to
High Costs and Unfair
Trials
THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

1

INTRODUCTION

The ACLU of Nebraska is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that works to defend
and strengthen the individual freedoms and
liberties guaranteed in the United States
and Nebraska Constitutions through policy
advocacy, litigation and education. We
serve thousands of members and supporters
stretching across the great state of Nebraska.
Criminal justice policies in Nebraska and
across the United States have created a
system of mass incarceration which hurts our
communities and disproportionately impacts
low-income families and communities of color.
Imprisonment is a brutal and costly response
to crime that traumatizes incarcerated people
and hurts families and communities. It should
be the last option, not the first. Yet the U.S.
incarcerates more people, in both absolute
numbers and per capita, than any other nation
in the world. For the last four decades, this
country has relentlessly expanded the size
of our criminal justice system, needlessly
throwing away too many lives and wasting
trillions of taxpayer dollars.
Nebraska has a role to play in reducing
America’s addiction to incarceration and
providing programs that help those accused or
convicted of a crime to turn their lives around.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Grateful appreciation to Senator John
McCollister for introducing LR 208 and
Senator Patty Pansing Brooks for introducing
LR 198 to study the question of how high
phone rates are impacting children of
incarcerated parents.
Research and data collection by Nathan
Calvin, Grinnell College, Class of 2018.

November 2017
2

A NEBRASKA STORY

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

“EMMA”

Today, 5.1 million children have a parent
behind bars. In Nebraska, that’s 41,000
young people or about one in ten children who
have a parent who has been or is currently
incarcerated.1 For these kids, losing
a parent to incarceration can be as
traumatic as losing a parent to death or
divorce.2  For families with a loved one in jail
or prison, phone contact is often the only way
to connect on a routine basis. Over half of the
Nebraskans in county jail are not yet convicted
of any crime—they simply lack the money to
post bond and go home as they await their
trial.3 They aren’t there briefly—a nonviolent
offender who cannot post bond spends an
average of 48 days in jail.4
Incarceration already falls
disproportionately on the poor and on
communities of color. While only one in
ten Nebraskans is a person of color, five of
ten pretrial detainees in Nebraska county
jails are people of color.5 The burden also
disproportionately affects parents of young
children. Federal studies show that 60% of
women in prison are mothers of a child under
18.6
The ACLU of Nebraska has received
repeated complaints from families struggling
financially to stay in touch with an
incarcerated family member. We have also
received multiple reports from attorneys who
aren’t able to have a confidential phone call
with their clients in jail. Over the summer of

Emma’s son was away at college when
he was approached by another student
asking to buy a gram of marijuana—in
other words, enough to roll between
one and three joints. Her son wasn’t
normally a dealer, but he had pot and
agreed to sell it. The other student then
revealed himself to be an undercover
police informant. Emma’s son had no
prior criminal history, but because he
was charged with a felony, he was given
a high bond the family can’t afford.
As of the writing of this report, Emma’s
son has been in the county jail for five
weeks.
Emma lives 60 miles from the jail
and visits twice a week. For the other
days, she must rely on the phones to
communicate with her son. So far, Emma
has already spent over $300 on phone
calls. “I constantly put money on his
books, but I definitely speak less to him
just because I can’t afford to call as much
as I want. This $20 drug transaction
is costing the county a lot of money
to house him in jail and is costing me
hundreds of dollars to stay in touch to be
supportive. He’s never been in trouble
before and he’s having serious depression
so it’s important that I stay in touch. I
don’t understand how this is benefiting
anyone.”
THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

3

2017, ACLU of Nebraska used open records
requests to learn more about the cost of calls
from behind bars. Our findings unveiled a
statewide problem of county jails charging
exorbitant rates arising from kickback
agreements in which county officials grant
private for-profit companies monopoly
contracts in exchange for a cut of the profits.
In contrast, the state Department of
Correctional Services has banned all
phone commissions and set a clear
standard for county jails to follow.
If you’re not incarcerated, a call home to your
family might cost a few cents a minute or just
be bundled into your monthly package. But
people detained in county jail are charged up
to $19 for a 15-minute phone call. Because
county jail detainees rarely or never have
the chance to earn money behind bars, the
financial burden of these unconscionably high
rates falls entirely on their families.
For-profit prison phone companies
charge sky-high rates to incarcerated
people and their families, making it too
expensive for families to stay connected.
The financial burden often falls on families of
incarcerated people because prisoners cannot
afford the outrageous charges. Poor people
are grossly over-represented in the exploding
prison population—national studies show that
between 60 to 90% of prisoners are indigent
and qualify for a public defender because
they are poor.7 When a parent is incarcerated,
that almost always means a major loss of
household income, which exacerbates the
family’s financial circumstances. If the family
doesn’t have gas money for in-person visits or
inflated phone rates, their financial hardship
prevents prisoners and their families from
communicating at all.
Phone companies should not be able to
profit off incarcerated people trying to be good
parents or good family members. Steep prices
mean many prisoners will not be able to call
home as often as they would choose. This is no
way to achieve our shared goal of public safety.
At least 95% of people currently in prison will
4

When people keep in touch with
their families while in prison,
studies repeatedly show they are
less likely to commit new criminal
offenses after returning to the
community and less likely to wind
up back behind bars. Keeping
family ties strong not only prevents
recidivism—it also strengthens the
mental health and well-being of the
children left at home.
return to our communities after they complete
their sentences.8 The average Nebraska
prisoner will serve two to six years before
being released home.9
We should adopt policies that help them
succeed after their sentences—not encourage
them to fail. When people keep in touch
with their families while in prison, studies
repeatedly show they are less likely to commit
new criminal offenses after returning to the
community and less likely to wind up back
behind bars.10 Keeping family ties strong not
only prevents recidivism—it also strengthens
the mental health and well-being of the
children left at home. We know there are
many children impacted by parents in jail–
approximately seven in ten women under
correctional sanction have minor children at
home.11 By ensuring family contact, officials
can secure taxpayer savings, public safety
gains and better outcomes for the families.
Who profits from this present destructive
system of jail phone service? The phone
companies and, sometimes, the county jail.
In this market, specialized phone companies
compete for the right to exclusive contracts
in each jail. In exchange, the county gets a
“commission” by the phone company, and it
encourages jail officials to inflate calling rates
rather than keep them affordable. One FCC
commissioner called this system “the clearest,

VIDEO: HT TP://WWW.ENCARTELE.NET/

Screenshot from an actual Encartele
Advertisement

most egregious case of market failure” she had
seen in sixteen years as a regulator.12
The for-profit corporations aren’t hiding the
financial gain involved: they actually advertise
the kickback system. In the promotional sales
video created by Nebraska-based company
Encartele, the voiceover says “Every day, an
inmate makes a call, a family member receives
a call, and someone profits from the call
made...[we’re] paying the highest verifiable
commissions available.”13 The video depicts
a grandmother picking up the phone while a
cartoon sheriff is shown shaking a money tree
raining dollar bills.
While the companies win, everyone else loses.
Prisoners and their families suffer financial
hardship or fall out of touch. As a result, the
community as a whole is likely to suffer when
the jails return them to society more alienated
and less connected to positive influences.
Telephone access in jail is also important for
ensuring people facing criminal charges get
their fair day in court. If you’re locked in a jail
cell facing serious charges, a telephone call
to your lawyer may be your only hope to clear
your name and get back to your job and family.
But, given the high rates for phone calls
described above, even calling a lawyer while in
county jail can be very difficult.
Our survey revealed that a few counties
are following best practices by providing

“Every day, an
inmate makes
a call, a family
member receives a
call, and someone
profits from
the call made...
[we’re] paying the
highest verifiable
commissions
available.”

appropriate free and confidential calls to a
lawyer. However, other counties impose the
same crushingly expensive rates for even a
call to the attorney appointed to an indigent
person. We’ve received reports of people
unable to leave messages for their lawyer
because they were collect calls, calls that
dropped in the middle of a conversation if
the call lasted longer than the amount the
prisoner had on their card, and jails providing
no private space for making a confidential
attorney call.

“The ‘Profiting Off Lifelines’ report adds to
mounting evidence showing that children
pay a hidden and significant cost when
it comes to our adult justice system. All
children need meaningful contact with
their parents, especially during stressful
circumstances, and policies that permit
financial exploitation of parent-child
relationships are contrary to Nebraska
values.”
Julia Tse, Policy Coordinator
Voices for Children in
Nebraska

THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

5

NATIONAL LANDSCAPE

caps.15 This ruling was about the limits of
the FCC’s authority, not the wisdom of the
Spurred by a grandmother’s complaint to the regulations and in no way an endorsement
Federal Communications Commission (FCC),
of the status quo, as the court noted these
and after a lengthy study of egregiously high
charges “raise serious concerns” and called
phone call costs for people behind bars, the
some of the rates charged by jails and prisons
FCC issued regulations in 2013 and 2015 to
“extraordinarily high.”
cap the cost of prison and jail phone calls.14 The
The FCC rate cap of 25 cents per minute on
FCC set different rates for county jails (which
prisoner phone calls made from one state to
house pretrial detainees not yet convicted of
another still stands, but most prisoners are
any crime as well as people convicted with a
serving time in their home state, which is not
short sentence) and for state prisons (which
covered by the FCC rate cap order. In order to
house people convicted with a longer sentence). stop the abuse, it will take action by the state
By July 2017, the proposed FCC caps on collect legislature to emulate the FCC and end this
calls within a state (intrastate) were to be:
predatory practice for all county jail phone
•	 36 cents per minute for county jails that
calls.
housed between 0-349 people
The end of the FCC intrastate rate caps has
•	 33 cents per minute for county jails that
passed the regulatory baton to the states. Now,
housed between 350-999 people
state by state, we must take action to tailor
•	 32 cents per minute for county jails with
remedies against these abusive practices.
over 1,000 people
•	 13 cents per minute for all state prisons.
For collect calls between more than one
state (interstate), there was a hard cap of 25
cents per minute regardless of facility size.
State prisons
The FCC also placed caps on the surcharges
and transaction fees telecommunications
Nebraska state facilities have already
companies could impose.
stepped up to this challenge. The Nebraska
Before the rate caps could go into effect,
Department of Correctional Services (NDCS)
for-profit telecommunication companies
has a regulation forbidding commissions
challenged these intrastate regulations in
“in the interest of making inmate calling as
court, arguing they violated the Commerce
affordable as possible.”16 As a result of this
Clause of the Constitution. The federal court
decision, Nebraska state prisons boast one of
agreed, leaving the interstate regulations
the lowest call prices in the nation, at 5 to 10
standing but striking down intrastate rate

PHONE RATES FOR PRISONS IN
NEBRASKA

6

NEBRASKA COUNTY JAILS
COST OF A 15 MINUTE PHONE CALL

ENCARTELE
$7-10 FOR 15 MINUTES

OTHER PROVIDER
SEE APPENDIX FOR COSTS

NO INFORMATION AVAILABLE

PROTOCALL
$14-19 FOR 15 MINUTES

SECURUS
$8-14 FOR 15 MINUTES

NO COUNTY JAIL

Nebraska state prisons boast
one of the lowest call prices in
the nation, at 5 to 10 cents per
minute depending on whether it
is a local call or not… Nebraska
rates are clearly among the lowest
nationwide.
cents per minute depending on whether it is a
local call or not. This means a prisoner can call
home anywhere in Nebraska to connect with
their family for 15 minutes and it will only cost
$1.50. Even an indigent prisoner without any
funds has a monthly option to choose either
five free stamps or a free $2.50 calling card.17

One human rights organization has ranked
Nebraska state facilities as the best phone
rate in the country.18 Additional research has
shown the prices in Nebraska are not as low
as indicated in that ranking, but Nebraska
rates are clearly among the lowest nationwide.
See Appendix for state phone rates. Our
state prison system ban on kickbacks or
commissions should be a model for all county
facilities.

County jails
In contrast, Nebraska county jails are
permitted to receive unlimited commissions
from phone companies, have no limits on the
rates for intrastate calls, and have no caps on
surcharges. This is particularly troubling since
THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

7

county jails are shorter-term facilities than
prisons, and approximately one half of the
county jail population are pretrial detainees
who are actively defending cases in which
they are presumed innocent but are unable to
post bail to go home. As last year’s ACLU of
Nebraska report on debtors’ prisons revealed,
the average person charged with a non-violent
offense will spend 48 days in jail before his or
her case is decided.19
Pretrial detainees have a heightened need
to contact their attorneys to prepare their
case but, as discussed later in this report,
many jails impose the same costs for a call
to a lawyer as they do for a call home. In the
summer of 2017, the ACLU of Nebraska sent
out open records requests to all 64 county jails
in the state asking for the rates they charged
prisoners and detainees.20 A copy of our open
records request letter is in the Appendix.
The results of our survey were startling. In
comparison to the $1.50 a state prisoner will
pay for a 15 minute call, we discovered county
detainees may expect to pay between $2 and
$20 for that same 15 minute call, depending on
the county in which they’re housed.
Nebraska counties are using several

In comparison to the $1.50 a state
prisoner will pay for a 15 minute
call, we discovered county detainees
may expect to pay between $2 and
$20 for that same 15 minute call,
depending on which county they’re
housed in.
for-profit companies based throughout the
country. The three largest providers in the
state are:
•	 Encartele, based in Nebraska (26 counties):
average cost $7-10 for 15 minutes
•	 Protocall, based in Kansas (15 counties):
average cost $14-19 for 15 minutes
•	 Securus, based in Texas (5 counties):
average cost $8-14 for 15 minutes
These initial rates that prisoners and
pretrial detainees are charged do not include
additional ancillary fees that many of these
companies also impose. In the FCC rate cap
lawsuit the court found that 38% of the forprofit prison phone call company revenue is

Table A
Counties with the Highest Income from Jail Phone Calls
COUNTY

COUNTY
INCOME
FROM
JAIL CALLS

COUNTY
BUDGET
2014-2016①

POPULATION MONTHLY COST TO % OF WEEKLY INCOME
RANK
PRISONER
FOR A FAMILY OF FOUR RECEIVING
2016 ESTIMATE② MAKING FOUR 15
SNAP BENEFITS③
MINUTE CALLS A WEEK

GALLONS OF GAS
FOR THE SAME COST
AS MONTHLY PHONE
CALLS④

Douglas

$617,062

$320,756,053 1

$41.76

2%

17

Lancaster

$397,566

$140,932,017 2

$50.40

3%

22

Scotts Bluff $77,265

$29,432,616 7

N/A

N/A

N/A

Sarpy

$38,464

$90,238,404 3

$41.76

2%

17

Lincoln

$37,470

$20,798,297 8

$99.68

4%

40

Platte

$33,898

$23,891,430 10

$99.68

4%

40

Dawson

$30,152

$23,399,633 13

$96.48

4%

39

Saunders

$28,028

$36,217,734

15

$168.16

6%

68

Saline

$22,139

$10,880,133

20

$318.24

12%

129

Buffalo
$20,461
$26,348,262 5
$160.96
6%
65
① www.nebraska.gov/auditor/reports/index.cgi?county=1
② Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016, U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division
③ http://dhhs.ne.gov/children_family_services/Pages/fia_guidelines.aspx
④ https://www.bls.gov/regions/mid-atlantic/data/averageretailfoodandenergyprices_usandmidwest_table.htm#ro3xg01apmw.f.1

8

Table B
Counties with fees beyond the per-minute charge
COUNTY/COUNTIES

COUNTY
INCOME FROM
JAIL PHONES

Adams, Dakota, Kimball,
Phelps and Saunders
Counties

Prepaid Calls: $2.99 per month
Transaction fee: $7.95
Collect Calls: $3.49 per month

Antelope, Cheyenne, Custer,
Dixon, Fillmore, Garden,
Hamilton, Harlan, Kearney,
Keith, Merrick, Nemaha,
Richardson, Saline, Valley,
and Washington Counties

Monthly Fee: $2.00
Per call fee for phones (including
wireless) without a billing
arrangement: $3.00

Douglas County

Automated Payment to Card: $3.00
Paying by Live Operator $5.95
Paper Bill $2.00

Lincoln County

Deposit: $3.00

Table C
Summary of County Jail Costs for a 15-minute call
AVERAGE

HIGHEST

Collect

$8.10

$14.85

Pre-paid debit

$5.70

$8.75

Pre-paid collect

$7.66

$14.85

Collect

$9.23

$14.85

Pre-paid debit

$6.34

$11.50

Pre-paid collect

$8.44

$14.85

Collect

$9.54

$15.10

Pre-paid debit

$6.66

$14.30

Pre-paid collect

$8.47

$14.85

Collect

$3.98

$16.41

Pre-paid debit

$3.35

$7.50

Pre-paid collect

$3.75

$7.50

LOCAL

INTRALATA

INTERLATA

INTERSTATE

generated by ancillary fees.21 Some of the extra
charges we identified in Nebraska include:
•	 $2 a month just to open and maintain an
account (Protocall)
•	 $2 a month to receive a paper bill (Global
Tel*Link)
•	 $3 for each call through any wireless phone
(Protocall)
•	 $3 to pay by credit card (Global Tel*Link)
•	 $8 to add funds to your prepaid account
(Securus)
A county-by-county breakdown of the cost
of calls can be found in the Appendix. Most
of these for-profit companies have a long
history of being sued for poor quality service or
exorbitant fees.22
The amount of income that jails make from
the calls compared to the actual costs of the
calls varied widely from county to county.
Some counties received income of a couple
hundred dollars last year. Other counties
reaped astonishing amounts of money
from the families of poor people totaling
$1,407,327.25 across the state (counties with
highest revenue from jail phones seen in Table
A). For example, Lancaster County reaped
$397,566 in 2016 and Douglas County took in
$617,062 in 2016. Incarceration should never
be a profit generator for the government—
especially when half of those behind bars in
county custody are pretrial detainees who
are presumed innocent as they seek to defend
themselves against a pending case. But this
jail call money-making scheme is a modern
twist on the Victorian for-profit debtors’
prisons.

THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

9

A NEBRASKA STORY

“CRISTIE”
Cristie’s fiancé was held as a pretrial
detainee on federal drug charges in a
county jail for almost a year. In-state
rates were costing her about $6 per 15
minutes, even though calling from an
out of state number would have cost
$4 per 15 minutes. “It’s not fair—they
know your family is likely to be closer
by, so they charge more to call down
the street than it costs to call across the
continent.” Her fiancé was experiencing
intense anxiety and depression at the
outset and was relying on her to help
locate witnesses his attorney could
then contact. “I ended up paying over
$800 to stay in touch with him. The
kids and I had only my income, and
there were months when I had to tell
him he wouldn’t hear from us until my
next payday. It especially impacted my
14-year-old who knew she would have
been in touch if only we’d had more
money.”

10

EMERGING ISSUES NEEDING
FURTHER STUDY

There are three areas our investigation
revealed will need further study.

State Prisoners in County Facilities
State prisoners in state facilities have
commission-free telephone services. However,
it appears that state prisoners who have been
transferred to county jails due to overcrowding
are paying the same exorbitant phone rates
as the county detainees. According to the
most recent NDCS data, there are 94 state
prisoners housed in county jails.23 Since state
prison sentences can be many years long, these
prisoners and their families may have to pay
these much higher rates for years.

Video Calling
Video calling services have emerged as
an option in some Nebraska county jails,
including Lancaster County.24 These systems,
which the companies describe as “video
visitation,” are advertised as being similar
to Skype or Facetime video calls, although
the actual calls are reportedly lower quality
and less reliable.25 Instead of treating video
calls as a supplement for in-person visitation
and phone calls, some jurisdictions have
experimented with prohibiting all in-person
visits, leaving families with only telephone
contact or video calls—both of which are, not
coincidentally, typically provided by the same
telephone provider. The rates and surcharges
for video calls are completely unregulated, and
like telephone calls, similar commission-based
profit incentives are often involved. Studies
have concluded that the video call rates are
very high nationwide.26 Recent news reports
suggest a similar high cost in Nebraska27, but
further study is necessary to identify all the
rates, surcharges and fees associated with
video calling systems.

Accommodations for Prisoners who are
Deaf
Prisoners who are deaf most commonly
use a videophone to make calls: the video
screen allows the person to sign to their
loved one or to an interpreter who relays
the prisoner’s words to the family member.
Nationwide, many correctional facilities still
only have outdated TTY systems where an
operator reads the typed words of the person
who is deaf. It is a slow and cumbersome
process that does not promote effective
communication.28 We did not investigate the
best modern technology or policies needed to
ensure that a county jail detainee who is deaf
may have meaningful and reliable contact
with an attorney or a family member. This
impacts a significant number of Nebraskans—
according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics,
approximately 6% of prisoners have a hearing
disability.29 Failure to provide appropriate
accommodations may trigger a lawsuit
like those that have been filed successfully
in Idaho, Virginia, Florida, Maryland and
Kentucky.30

A NEBRASKA STORY

“FARRAH”
Farrah is a refugee and naturalized US
citizen. Her adult nephew was arrested
for a nonviolent misdemeanor earlier
this summer, and because he is not yet
a citizen, he worries he might be facing
deportation in addition to a criminal
conviction. Farrah and her nephew’s
mother live in Lincoln, but the young
man is housed in a rural jail in central
Nebraska that is a 90-minute drive
each way. Since it’s difficult to travel
that far, the family relies primarily on
phone calls. Farrah reports her nephew
is having a very hard time in jail: the
facility is overcrowded, there is no
open-air exercise, and many guards and
prisoners are hostile to him because he
is a minority. He is desperately worried
about what will happen with his criminal
charge as well as his immigration case,
so his family tries to talk to him as much
as possible to buoy up his spirits. “We pay
about $6 per call, plus $10 every month
to cover all the other fees. He tells us he
hasn’t seen the sun for weeks, and we are
his only ray of hope when we are able to
afford that call.”
THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

11

ATTORNEY CALLS IN NEBRASKA
County jail detainees don’t just need to
talk to their families—they also need to call
their lawyers. The vast majority of county
jail detainees are represented by public
defenders due to their indigent status. In
greater Nebraska, public defenders and
court appointed lawyers may be required to
cover territory across several counties. Their
far-flung clients may be many hours apart
from each other and the attorney’s office, so
telephone calls are less burdensome than
traveling for personal interviews. Each
prisoner needs to be able to communicate
with his or her attorney to prepare for trial
and confer about their case. That’s a tall order
when the cost of the call is very high or when
the client can’t even leave a voicemail or speak
without the fear that the sheriff might be
listening in.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the
right to counsel for people charged with
criminal offenses. It includes the right to
have a competent defense that has not been
compromised by government eavesdropping
or rendered unaffordable by the greed of jail
officials.31 Confidential discussions between
an attorney and client are the bedrock to
a meaningful defense and are privileged
communications.32 Courts have been
particularly protective of a pretrial detainee’s
right to adequate and confidential phone calls
with their attorney because these rights are
essential to receiving a fair trial, and a pretrial
12

detainee is presumed innocent. The Eighth
Circuit, which is the federal circuit court of
appeals covering Nebraska, has ruled “Pretrial detainees have a substantial due process
interests in effective communication with their
counsel . . . when this interest is inadequately
respected during pre-trial confinement, the
ultimate fairness of their eventual trial can be
compromised.”33
Given this body of caselaw, jails risk
expensive civil rights litigation if they fail to
provide adequate confidential phone calls with
attorneys that are free for all indigent people.
Otherwise, when a pretrial detainee is trying
to decide whether to spend her few dollars
on a call home to talk to her children or call
her lawyer to prepare for trial, we’ve set an
impossible choice before her.
Our survey revealed significant variance in
internal rules in place to protect the attorneyclient relationship. Thirty-one counties have
no written policies governing attorney-client
call confidentiality. Only twenty seven
counties provide free calls to attorneys. Eight
other counties permitted free local attorney
calls or free calls to public defenders while
charging for all other attorney calls. See
Appendix for a complete breakdown of policies
and costs for attorney-client calls.

Confidentiality
The ACLU survey on attorney-client
calls was prompted in part by reports from
lawyers who have had their conversations

with incarcerated clients recorded without
their knowledge. Such recordings infringe
on the attorney-client privilege, which is a
foundational principle of our legal system and
is essential to providing a competent defense.
In one example, the court appointed an
attorney to represent a defendant facing
serious felony charges, but the attorney’s
office was an hour and a half away from the
Hall County jail where his client was housed.
Given the distance, the attorney had to rely on
phone calls to prepare for the upcoming trial.
In the routine discovery process, prosecutors
provided the attorney with a CD containing
all his client’s phone calls from the jail. When
the attorney reviewed the CD, he was shocked
to find he was listening to his own calls with
his client: in fact, the sheriff had recorded 59
phone calls between the attorney and client
and provided those recordings to prosecutors.
The attorney successfully moved to seal
the phone calls and disqualify all current
prosecuting attorneys in order to prevent the
prosecution from gaining an unfair advantage
from the confidential attorney conversations.34
However, the whole episode raises troubling
questions about what other attorney-client
calls in Hall County or other jails might
be improperly recorded and shared with

“My clients at [undisclosed] county
jail have one phone to use: a pay
phone on the wall in a common
area without any privacy. I need
to ask them questions about their
upcoming case but sometimes
they’re scared to answer me because
other prisoners or county jail staff
are standing nearby.”
prosecutors.
Another attorney told us, “My clients at
[undisclosed] county jail have one phone to
use: a pay phone on the wall in a common

“I expect the prosecutors to do everything
they can to try their case and win. I also
expect prosecutors to play fair and follow
the rules. I’ve been shocked to learn how
often the basic principles of attorneyclient privilege aren’t being followed.
When a jail passes along information from
a confidential phone call I have with my
client to the prosecutor, I can’t effectively
represent my client. Cutting corners isn’t
how our judicial system should work,”
Ben Murray
Germer Murray & Johnson
area without any privacy. I need to ask
them questions about their upcoming case
but sometimes they’re scared to answer me
because other prisoners or county jail staff are
standing nearby.”
While jails may have legitimate reasons
to record prisoner conversations in some
circumstances, such as when a prisoner
is attempting to use the phone system to
threaten witnesses or coordinate illegal
activities, the jails must have safeguards in
place to ensure attorney conversations are not
caught in a recording dragnet.
Most jails reported they have no written
policy on the issue. A few reported anecdotally
that while they have no written policy, and
despite the fact they confirmed they record
all calls, they promise they do not listen to a
recording once they realize it is between an
attorney and their client. However, this is
no substitute for actually installing a system
designed to safeguard the attorney-client
privilege—especially since these phone
companies specialize in prison and jail phone
systems. Securus, the phone provider in five
Nebraska county jails, is currently being sued
in a class action in California for continuing
to willfully record attorney-client phone calls
despite repeated warnings of the problem.35
They’ve also been caught recording calls in
THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

13

Missouri in what has been called the “most
massive breach of the attorney-client privilege
in modern U.S. history.”36
In some counties, the telephone system offers
the option to put attorneys’ phone numbers
on a “do not record” list. However, several
county officials admitted their list of attorneys
was far from comprehensive and that it was
likely some attorneys were falling through the
cracks and being recorded. Only a few counties
were following best practices in that they have
a phone that is physically separate and offers a
consistent non-recorded line for attorney calls.
As the Nebraska Supreme Court Lawyer’s
Advisory Committee on ethics has said, “A
defendant held in a government detention
facility, like any other client, is entitled
to expect that his communications with
his lawyer will be confidential” and “mere
assurances from the government” are not
adequate to safeguard confidentiality.37
Lawyers representing Nebraskans in county
jails deserve clear statewide standards
to ensure there is no eavesdropping by
government officials.

Attorney call cost
Our survey revealed that the cost of attorney
calls varies widely across the state. Some
counties confirmed that they always charged

14

attorney calls at the same rate as a call home.
Other counties had exceptions and allowed
free calls to public defenders while still
charging for calls to any private attorney. The
majority of counties had no written policies
about the cost of calls to legal counsel.
One attorney who is appointed to represent
indigent clients in a large five-county area
told us “I regularly have difficulty getting
calls from my clients. Even though I was
court-appointed precisely because the client
has been found to be poor, the county jail says,
‘Your client needs to pay for it on his own or
he can call you collect.’ That just shifts these
ridiculously expensive calls to me and I’m
not being reimbursed by the court. Yet I can’t
conduct my business by driving over an hour
every time I need to communicate an update or
pose a question to my client.”
Another attorney shared, “my client started
in one county jail that offers free calls to
attorneys, but when he was moved to a county
without free lines, I contacted the Sheriff to
request phone access. I was told ‘this isn’t our
problem and we won’t do it. You’ll need to work
it out somehow.’ I could drive the hour and a
half to see him, but ironically I’ll end up billing
that time to the county so there is no savings to
deny this man his attorney calls.”

REFORMING JAIL PHONE CALLS
STATES WHICH HAVE ENACTED REFORMS

LAW REFORMING
COUNTY JAILS
LAW REFORMING
STATE PRISONS

RECOMMENDATIONS

There are several reasonable ways to reform
phone access for prisoners in county jail.
Nebraska county jails have the excellent model
policies from the state NDCS that could be
adopted county-by-county. State policymakers
should pass legislation to ensure consistent
access to family and legal counsel.

SOLUTION: Public Service
Commission regulations
The Nebraska Public Service Commission
(PSC) could study the issue and, like the
original FCC regulation, issue a regulatory
rate cap and restrictions on ancillary fees
that would apply to all county facilities.
The PSC would first need statutory
authority to regulate in this arena.38 New
Mexico has already enacted such a jail

telecommunications rate regulation through
their state public service commission.39

SOLUTION: Nebraska Jail Standards
Board regulations
The Nebraska Jail Standards Board could be
charged with the task of setting a regulatory
rate cap and restrictions on ancillary fees
for all county jail facilities. The board would
also be best positioned to draft model policies
regarding protecting the confidentiality of
attorney client calls.

SOLUTION: County Board action to
ban commissions
County boards could prohibit commissions
from phone contracts, following the model
of the Nebraska Department of Correctional
THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

15

Services. The Nebraska Association of County
Officials could provide model policies to ensure
appropriate rates and fees that reflect the
actual cost of providing telephone service.

SOLUTION: State statute ban on
commissions and rate cap
The Legislature could pass a state law that
resembles the “no commissions” rule used by
the Nebraska Department of Correctional
Services. Legislative reform of the for-profit
telecommunications industry is already
gaining momentum on a national scale.
Illinois40, Michigan41, Mississippi42, New
York43, New Jersey44, New Mexico45 and
several other states have passed laws that
capped rates and ended the practice of taking
commissions in their state prisons. Legislation
is pending in Montana46 to make all attorney
phone calls free. The best model is from New
Jersey, where a 2016 bipartisan bill affecting
both state prisons and county jails banned
commissions, surcharges and fees, and capped
in-state call rates at 11 cents per minute.47
A state law rate cap could follow the original
FCC model with different rates depending
on the size of the jail to account for the lower
profitability in smaller rural counties.

SOLUTION: Further legislative study
of impact on prisoners who are deaf,
state prisoners in county care, and the
cost of video calling systems
Our investigation was limited in scope
regarding the questions about true phone
access for prisoners with disabilities
(especially those who are deaf); how state
prisoners housed in county facilities due
to overcrowding are charged; or how the
emerging trend of video calling systems is
impacting indigent families. A legislative
resolution to study these issues further may
help illuminate areas ripe for additional
reform.
16

CONCLUSION
Expensive phone rates and policies in county
jails aren’t just affecting the men and women
behind bars—these practices also impact
families and children. Cutting off lifelines to
children, to families and to lawyers not only
endangers the wellbeing of the incarcerated
person but also harms their family members
and threatens public safety by increasing the
risk of recidivism.
Additionally, recording attorney phone calls
and making it impossible for indigent people
to call their public defenders undermines the
legitimacy of the criminal justice system.
Jail phone service is a classic case of market
failure, in which regulators must step in to
ensure fair pricing and adequate functionality.
In this broken “market,” specialized phone
companies use monetary commissions to
entice government officials to sign monopoly
contracts. Meanwhile, the people who actually
use these telephone systems—incarcerated
people, their families and attorneys—are shut
out of the contract negotiations and must
suffer the inflated phone rates and limited
functionality that result from a market that
prioritizes commission revenue over price and
quality of service. Common sense reforms to
guarantee confidential attorney contact and
limit the cost of calls to the actual cost of the
service are needed to ensure a better result
for those behind bars, their families and our
communities.

APPENDIX A — Cost Tables
Local Exchange Service provides calling within your exchange. An exchange is
a specified area usually encompassing a city, town or village and its environs.48

AGENCY

COLLECT
PER MINUTE

PRE-PAID DEBIT

PRE-PAID COLLECT

15 MINUTE CALL

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

Adams

$0.40

$8.25

$0.40

$8.65

$0.36

$7.76

Antelope

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Boone

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Box

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Brown

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Buffalo

$0.50

$7.50

$0.25

$3.75

Butler

$3.50

$3.50

$0.55

$8.25

$3.50

$3.50

Cass

$3.50

$3.50

$0.55

$8.25

$3.50

$3.50

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Cedar

$0.50

Chase

N/A

Cherry

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Cheyenne

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Clay

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Colfax

N/A

Custer

$0.99

$14.85

Dakota

$0.01

$3.84

Dawes

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Dawson

$0.27

$4.05

$0.27

$4.05

$0.40

$6.00

Dixon

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Dodge

N/A

Douglas

$0.13

$1.95

$0.13

$1.95

$0.13

$1.95

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Dundy
Fillmore
Franklin

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Frontier

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Furnas

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Gage

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Garden

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Hall

$0.10

$5.25

$0.01

$3.74

Hamilton

$3.50

$3.50

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Harlan

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Hitchcock

$0.16

$2.40

THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

17

AGENCY

COLLECT
PER MINUTE

PRE-PAID DEBIT

15 MINUTE CALL

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

PRE-PAID COLLECT
PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

Holt

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Jefferson

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Johnson

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Kearney

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Keith

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Kimball

$0.10

$5.10

$0.10

$5.10

$0.60

$9.00

Knox

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Lancaster

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Lincoln

$0.31

$4.65

$0.31

$4.65

$0.31

$4.65

Madison

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Merrick

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Morril

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Nemaha

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Otoe

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Phelps

$0.10

$5.10

$0.10

$5.10

$0.60

$9.00

Pierce

$0.50

$10.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Platte

$0.31

$4.65

$0.31

$4.65

$0.31

$4.65

Polk

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Red Willow

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Richardson

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Saline

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Sarpy

$0.13

$1.95

$0.10

$1.50

Saunders

$0.38

$7.85

$0.38

$7.85

$0.38

$7.85

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Scotts Bluff
Seward

N/A
$0.50

Sheridan

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Thayer

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Thurston

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.99

$14.85

Valley

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

Washington

$0.50

$9.75

$0.45

$8.75

Webster

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

York

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

18

APPENDIX A — Cost Tables (continued)
Local Toll (intraLATA) Service (also called local long distance or regional toll
service) provides calling within a geographic area known as a Local Access and
Transport Area (LATA). Per-minute toll charges usually apply to these calls.49

AGENCY

COLLECT
PER MINUTE

PRE-PAID DEBIT

PRE-PAID COLLECT

15 MINUTE CALL

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

Adams

$0.40

$8.25

$0.40

$8.25

$0.36

$7.40

Antelope

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Boone

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Box

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Brown

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Buffalo

$0.50

$7.50

$0.25

$3.75

Butler

$0.49

$10.60

$0.55

$8.25

$0.49

$10.60

Cass

$0.49

$10.60

$0.55

$8.25

$0.49

$10.60

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Cedar

$0.50

Chase

N/A

Cherry

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Cheyenne

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Clay

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Colfax

N/A

Custer

$0.99

$14.85

Dakota

$0.49

$10.60

$0.49

$10.60

$0.60

$9.00

Dawes

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Dawson

$0.30

$4.50

$0.30

$4.50

$0.40

$6.00

Dixon

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Dodge

N/A

Douglas

$0.13

$1.95

$0.13

$1.95

$0.13

$1.95

Dundy

N/A
$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Fillmore

$0.99

Franklin

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Frontier

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Furnas

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Gage

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Garden

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Hall

$0.59

$12.10

$0.49

$11.50

Hamilton

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Harlan

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Hitchcock

$0.16

$2.40

$0.16

$2.40

$0.16

$2.40

THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

19

AGENCY

COLLECT
PER MINUTE

PRE-PAID DEBIT

15 MINUTE CALL

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

PRE-PAID COLLECT
PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

Holt

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Jefferson

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Johnson

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Kearney

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Keith

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Kimball

$0.49

$10.60

$0.49

$10.60

$0.60

$9.00

Knox

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Lancaster

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Lincoln

$0.31

$4.65

$0.31

$4.65

$0.31

$4.65

Madison

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Merrick

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Morril

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Nemaha

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Otoe

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Phelps

$0.49

$10.60

$0.49

$10.60

$0.60

$9.00

Pierce

$0.49

$10.11

$0.55

$8.25

$0.49

$10.11

Platte

$0.31

$4.65

$0.31

$4.65

$0.31

$4.65

Polk

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Red Willow

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Richardson

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Saline

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Sarpy

$0.13

$1.95

$0.10

$1.50

Saunders

$0.38

$7.85

$0.38

$7.85

$0.38

$7.85

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Scotts Bluff
Seward

N/A
$0.50

Sheridan

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Thayer

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Thurston

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Valley

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Washington

$0.50

$9.75

$0.45

$8.75

Webster

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

York

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

20

APPENDIX A — Cost Tables (continued)
Long Distance Toll (interLATA) Service includes all calls outside the local
exchange and local toll service areas, calls that originate in one LATA and
terminate in another.50

AGENCY

COLLECT

PRE-PAID DEBIT

PRE-PAID COLLECT

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

$0.40

$8.25

$0.40

$8.25

$0.36

$7.40

Antelope

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Boone

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Adams

Box

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Brown

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Buffalo

$0.50

$7.50

$0.25

$3.75

Butler

$0.49

$10.60

$0.55

$8.25

$0.49

$10.60

Cass

$0.49

$10.60

$0.55

$8.25

$0.49

$10.60

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Cedar

$0.50

Chase

N/A

Cherry

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

Cheyenne

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Clay

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Colfax

N/A

Custer

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Dakota

$0.69

$14.30

$0.69

$14.30

$0.60

$9.00

Dawes

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Dawson

$0.40

$6.00

$0.40

$6.00

$0.40

$6.00

Dixon

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Dodge

N/A

Douglas

$0.13

$1.95

$0.13

$1.95

$0.13

$1.95

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Dundy
Fillmore

N/A
$0.99

Franklin

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Frontier

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Furnas

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Gage

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Garden

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Hall

$0.74

$15.10

$0.69

$14.30

Hamilton

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Harlan

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Hitchcock

$0.16

$2.40

$0.16

$2.40

$0.16

$2.40

Holt

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Jefferson

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

21

AGENCY

COLLECT
PER MINUTE

PRE-PAID DEBIT

15 MINUTE CALL

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

PRE-PAID COLLECT
PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

Johnson

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Kearney

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Keith

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Kimball

$0.69

$14.30

$0.69

$14.30

$0.60

$9.00

Knox

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Lancaster

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Lincoln

$0.31

$4.65

$0.31

$4.65

$0.31

$4.65

Madison

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Merrick

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Morril

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Nemaha

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Otoe

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Phelps

$0.69

$14.30

$0.69

$14.30

$0.60

$9.00

Pierce

$0.69

$12.91

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Platte

$0.31

$4.65

$0.31

$4.65

$0.31

$4.65

Polk

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Red Willow

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Richardson

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Saline

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Sarpy

$0.13

$1.95

$0.10

$1.50

Saunders

$0.38

$7.85

$0.38

$7.85

$0.38

$7.85

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Scotts Bluff
Seward

N/A
$0.50

Sheridan

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

Thayer

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Thurston

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Valley

$0.99

$14.85

$0.49

$7.35

$0.99

$14.85

Washington

$0.50

$9.75

$0.45

$8.75

Webster

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

York

$0.49

$7.35

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

22

APPENDIX A — Cost Tables (continued)
Interstate Service includes calls from one state to another state.

AGENCY

COLLECT
PER MINUTE

PRE-PAID DEBIT

15 MINUTE CALL

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

PRE-PAID COLLECT
PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

Adams

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.21

$3.15

Antelope

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Boone

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Box

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Brown

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Buffalo

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Butler

$3.75

$3.75

$3.15

$3.15

$3.75

$3.75

Cass

$3.75

$3.75

$3.15

$3.15

$3.75

$3.75

Cedar

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Chase

N/A

Cherry

$3.75

$3.75

$3.15

$3.15

$3.75

$3.75

Cheyenne

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Clay

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

$0.22

$3.30

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Colfax

N/A

Custer

$0.25

Dakota

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.21

$3.15

Dawes

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Dawson

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.40

$6.00

Dixon

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Dodge

N/A
$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.21

$3.15

Douglas

$0.25

Dundy

N/A

Fillmore

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Franklin

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Frontier

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Furnas

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Gage

$3.75

$3.75

$3.15

$3.15

$3.75

$3.75

Garden

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75
$3.75

Hall

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Hamilton

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

Harlan

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Hitchcock

$0.16

$2.40

$0.16

$2.40

$0.16

$2.40

THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

23

AGENCY

COLLECT

PRE-PAID DEBIT

PRE-PAID COLLECT

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

PER MINUTE

15 MINUTE CALL

Holt

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Jefferson

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Johnson

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Kearney

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Keith

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Kimball

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.21

$3.15

Knox

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Lancaster

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Lincoln

$0.21

$3.15

$0.21

$3.15

$0.21

$3.15

Madison

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Merrick

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Morril

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Nemaha

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Otoe

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Phelps

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.21

$3.15

Pierce

$0.89

$16.41

$0.50

$7.50

$0.50

$7.50

Platte

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Polk

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Red

$0.25

$3.75

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

Richardson

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Saline

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Sarpy

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Saunders

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.21

$3.15

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Scotts Bluff

N/A

Seward

$0.25

$3.75

Sheridan

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

Thayer

$0.25

$3.75

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

Thurston

$0.25

$3.75

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

Valley

$0.25

$3.75

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

Washington

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.21

$3.15

Webster

$0.25

$3.75

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

York

$0.25

$3.75

$0.21

$3.15

$0.25

$3.75

24

APPENDIX B
Attorney Call Confidentiality and Costs in Nebraska County Jails
AGENCY
Adams

WRITTEN POLICY? ATTORNEY-CLIENT CONFIDENTIALITY PRACTICE
No

Automated nonrecorded calls list

ATTORNEY CALL COST
Free

Antelope

No

Confidential call provided after written request

Free

Boone

No

Confidential call provided after written request

Free

Box

Yes

Unclear

Yes

Brown

Yes

Not monitored

Free

Buffalo

No

Automated nonrecorded calls list

Yes unless requested

Butler

Yes

Unclear

Unclear

Cass

No

Unclear

Yes

Cedar

No

Not monitored

Free

Chase

Yes

Not monitored

Free

Cherry

No

Not monitored

Yes

Cheyenne

No

Unclear

Free only if local

Clay

No

Not monitored

Unclear

Colfax

No

Unclear

Free

Custer

No

Confidential call provided after written request

Yes

Dakota

Yes

Not monitored

Yes

Dawes

No

Confidential call provided after written request

Yes

Dawson

Yes

Automated nonrecorded calls list

Yes unless requested

Dixon

Yes

Not monitored

Free

Dodge

No

Unclear

Free

Douglas

Yes

Added to a list of nonrecorded calls upon request

Free only if local

Dundy

No

Not monitored

Free

Fillmore

Yes

Added to a list of nonrecorded calls upon request

Unclear

Franklin

No

Unclear

Yes unless requested

Frontier

Yes

Not monitored

Unclear

Furnas

Yes

Automated nonrecorded calls list

Yes

Gage

Yes

Not monitored

Free

Garden

No

Unclear

Yes

Hall

No

Confidential call provided after written request

Yes

Hamilton

No

Confidential call provided after written request

Free

Harlan

No

Not monitored

Yes

Hitchcock

Yes

No calls monitored unless individual security issue

Free only if local

Holt

Yes

Unclear

Yes

Jefferson

Yes

Automated nonrecorded calls list

Free
Free only if public defender

Johnson

No

Automated nonrecorded calls list

Kearney

Yes

Added to a list of nonrecorded calls “on a call by call basis” Free

Keith

Yes

Not monitored

Unclear

Kimball

Yes

Not monitored

Free

Knox

Yes

Not monitored

Free only if public defender

THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

25

AGENCY

WRITTEN POLICY? ATTORNEY-CLIENT CONFIDENTIALITY PRACTICE

ATTORNEY CALL COST

Lancaster

Yes

Automated nonrecorded calls list

Yes

Lincoln

No

Unclear

Yes

Madison

No

Automated nonrecorded calls list

Yes

Merrick

No

Automated nonrecorded calls list

Free

Morril

Yes

Not monitored

Yes

Nemaha

Yes

Not monitored

Free

Otoe

No

Unclear

Free

Phelps

Yes

Automated nonrecorded calls list

Free

Pierce

No

Unclear

Unclear

Platte

Yes

Not monitored

Free

Polk

No

Not monitored

Free

Red

No

Not monitored

Free

Richardson

Yes

Not monitored

Free

Saline

No

Automated nonrecorded calls list

Yes

Sarpy

Yes

Not monitored

Free only if local

Saunders

Yes

Confidential call provided after written request

Free only if public defender

Scotts Bluff

No

Unclear

Unclear

Seward

Yes

Confidential call provided after written request

Free only if public defender

Sheridan

Yes

Not monitored

Free

Thayer

Yes

Not monitored

Free

Thurston

Yes

Not monitored

Free

Valley

No

Automated nonrecorded calls list

Unclear

Washington

Yes

Not monitored

Free

Webster

No

Not monitored

Free

York

Yes

Not monitored

Yes

26

APPENDIX C
Open Records Request to Counties

June 16, 2017

Re:

Open records request

Dear Jail Administrator:
We are examining the issue of phone calls for people held in county jails. We are
studying how much jail calls cost and how confidential attorney-client calls are
handled.
Per Neb. Rev. Stat. 84-712, I am making an open records request for two items:
REQUEST ONE: I am seeking information that shows the cost of phone calls for
detainees or inmates. If you have a handout or brochure you provide to inmates and
their families that shows the phone costs, you can provide it and satisfy this request.
Or, if you don’t have such a handout, you can provide a copy of the contract with the
entity that provides telephone service for your inmates.
REQUEST TWO: I am requesting any current policy or regulation in force regarding
attorney-client confidential calls. This should include (a) any document that shows
how you designate a phone for attorney-client calls and (b) any document that shows
how you prevent attorney-client calls from being monitored or recorded and (c) any
document that shows how the cost for attorney-client calls are charged.
State law says open records requests must be filled within four business days, but I
am willing to give you until Friday, June 23rd to respond.
If you have questions about this request, please contact me at 402-476-8091,
extension 106 or email at amiller@aclunebraska.org.
You can email the materials to me, fax them to 402-476-8135, or place them in the
mail to me at our address 134 South 13th Street, Suite 1010, Lincoln NE 68508.
Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Amy A. Miller
Attorney at Law

THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

27

APPENDIX D
State of Nebraska Response

28

ENDNOTES
1	

Annie E. Casey Foundation, “A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration.” Voices for Children in
Nebraska. 2016. http://voicesforchildren.com/a-shared-sentence-the-devastating-toll-of-parental-incarceration/

2	

LaVigne, Nancy et al. 2008. “Broken Bonds: Understanding and Addressing the Needs of Children
of Incarcerated Parents.” The Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/research/publication/
broken-bonds-understanding-and-addressing-needs-children-incarcerated-parents

3	

ACLU of Nebraska, “Unequal Justice: Bail and Modern Day Debtors’ Prisons in Nebraska,” December 2016, page 13. https://
www.aclunebraska.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/unequal_justice_2016_12_13.pdf

4	

Id., page 17.

5	

Id., page 21.

6	

U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, “Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children,” (2010).
https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pptmc.pdf

7	

Marea Beeman, Am. Bar Ass’n, Using Data To Sustain And Improve Public Defense Programs 2 (2012). http://texaswcl.tamu.
edu/reports/2012_JMI_Using_Data_in_Public_Defense.pdf
See also Bureau Justice Assistance, Dep’t Justice, Contracting For Indigent Defense Services 3, n.1 (2000), available at https://
www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/181160.pdf  and Caroline Wolf Harlow, Bureau Justice Statistics, Dep’t Justice, Defense Counsel In
Criminal Cases 1 (2000), available at http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/dccc.pdf (over 80% of people charged with a felony
in state courts are represented by public defenders).

8	

Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Reentry Trends in the U.S.,” 2017. https://www.bjs.gov/content/reentry/reentry.cfm

9	

Nebraska Department of Correctional Services Annual Report (2014), p. 47 https://corrections.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/
files/46/2014_ndcs_annual_report_reduced.pdf

10	 See, e.g., Travis, McBride, and Solomon. 2006. “Families Left Behind: The Hidden Costs of Incarceration and Reentry.”
The Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/research/publication/families-left-behind Also Duwe, Grant 2011. “Blessed Be
the Social Tie That Binds: The Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism.” Criminal Justice Policy Review. http://
journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0887403411429724 Also Bales, William 2008. “Inmate Social Ties and the Transition to
Society: Does Visitation Reduce Recidivism?” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/
abs/10.1177/0022427808317574
11	 Susan W. McCampbell, “The Gender-Responsive Strategies Project: Jail Applications” U.S. Department of Justice, National
Institute of Corrections, 2005. https://nicic.gov/gender-responsive-strategies-project-jail-applications Approximately 51% of male
prisoners are parents of a minor child. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children,” 2008. https://
www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pptmc.pdf
12	 Statement of Commissioner Mignon Clyburn on Rates for Interstate Inmate Calling Services, WC Docket No. 12-375. http://
transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2014/db1017/DOC-330005A3.pdf
13	 http://www.encartele.net/
14	 FCC, “Inmate Telephone Service.” https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/inmate-telephone-service
15	 Global Tel*Link vs. FCC, 866 F.3d 397 (D.C., 2017). https://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/
C62A026B396DD4C78525813E004F3BC5/$file/15-1461-1679364.pdf
16	 Nebraska Department of Correctional Services Administrative Regulation, “Inmate Telephone Regulations,” No. 205-03, XII,
“Commissions.” https://www.corrections.nebraska.gov/system/files/rules_reg_files/ar_205.03_2017_final.pdf
17	 Nebraska Department of Correctional Services Administrative Regulation, “Inmate Telephone Regulations,” No. 205-03, IIID.
https://www.corrections.nebraska.gov/system/files/rules_reg_files/ar_205.03_2017_final.pdf
18	 Prison Phone Justice. https://www.prisonphonejustice.org/
19	 ACLU of Nebraska, 2016. “Unequal Justice.” https://www.aclunebraska.org/en/publications/unequal-justice
20	 Although there are 93 counties in Nebraska, not every county has a jail.
21	 Drew Kukorowski, Peter Wagner & Leah Sakala, Please Deposit All of Your Money: Kickbacks, Rates, and Hidden Fees in the
Jail Phone Industry, p. 3 (2013). https://static.prisonpolicy.org/phones/please_deposit.pdf
22	 Markowitz, Eric, International Business Times. “Video chats are replacing in person jail visits, while one tech company profits.”
April 8, 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/video-chats-are-replacing-person-jail-visits-while-one-tech-company-profits-1873918
23	 NDCS Quarterly Data Sheet, July-September 2017.https://www.corrections.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/files/39/
datasheet_2017_3rd_qtr.pdf

THE HIGH COST OF COUNTY JAIL PHONE SYSTEMS

29

24	 Lancaster County Department of Corrections Visitor Information. http://www.lancaster.ne.gov/correct/visitors.htm#Contact
25	 Prison Policy Initiative “Video Calling,” https://www.prisonpolicy.org/visitation/
26	 Lapowsky, Issie, Wired Magazine. “Video chat price-gouging costs inmates more than money.” August 31, 2017. https://www.
wired.com/story/prison-video-visits/
27	 Hicks, Nancy. Lincoln Journal Star, “You will now be able to video call your jail inmate, for a price.” September 27, 2017. http://
journalstar.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_49e1196a-c68d-59f2-a0c5-4dffd7d6b6fa.html
28	 Thompson, Christie, The Marshall Project. “Why many deaf prisoners can’t call home,” September 19, 2017. https://www.
themarshallproject.org/2017/09/19/why-many-deaf-prisoners-can-t-call-home
29	 U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. “Disabilities Among Prison and Jail Inmates,” December 2015. https://
www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/dpji1112.pdf
30	 Marshall Project, Id. Cases are also still pending in Michigan, Illinois and Massachusetts.
31	 See, e.g., Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977) (prisoners have a constitutional right to access the courts) and Lewis v.
Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 355 (1996) (prisoners are entitled to court access)
32	 See, e.g., Fisher v. United States, 425 U.S. 391, 403 (1976) and Weatherford v. Bursey, 429 U.S. 545 (1977)
33	 Johnson-El v. Schoemehl, 878 F.2d 1043, 1051 (8th Cir. 1989)
34	 State v. Foster, Order, Case. No. CR14-10 (Nuckolls County District Court).
35	 Friedmann, Alex, Prison Legal News. “Securus Faces Lawsuit Over Recorded Attorney Calls.” August 2, 2016. https://www.
prisonlegalnews.org/news/2016/aug/2/securus-faces-lawsuit-over-recorded-attorney-calls/
36	 Smith, Joran, The Intercept. “Not So Securus: Lawyers Speak Out About Massive Hack of Prisoners’ Phone Records.” February
12, 2016. https://theintercept.com/2016/02/12/not-so-securus-lawyers-speak-out-about-massive-hack-of-prisoners-phone-records/
37	 Nebraska Ethics Advisory Opinion for Lawyers No. 13-04. https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/ethics-opinions/
Lawyer/13-04_0.pdf
38	 See Neb. Rev. Stat. 86-139 regarding the PSC scope of authority.
39	 NM Title 17, Chapter 11, Part 28. http://164.64.110.239/nmac/parts/title17/17.011.0028.htm
40	 730 ILCS 5/3-4-1 (2016) http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/documents/073000050K3-4-1.htm
41	 HB-4323 (2017), Sec. 219 page 50 https://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2017-2018/billengrossed/House/pdf/2017-HEBH-4323.pdf
42	 House Bill No. 265 http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2016/pdf/HB/0200-0299/HB0265IN.pdf
43	 N.Y. COR § 623 http://codes.findlaw.com/ny/correction-law/cor-sect-623.html
44	 N.J. Rev. Stat. § 30: 4-8.11 – 8.14 (2016) http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2016/Bills/PL16/37_.PDF
45	 NM Title 17, Chapter 11, Part 28. http://164.64.110.239/nmac/parts/title17/17.011.0028.htm
46	  2017 Bill Text MT D. 1071 (H.B. 258) http://leg.mt.gov/bills/2017/billpdf/HB0258.pdfl
47	 N.J. Rev. Stat. 30:4-8.11 – 8.14 (2016) http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2016/Bills/PL16/37_.PDF
48	 FCC, “Local, Local Toll, and Long Distance Calling” https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/
local-local-toll-and-long-distance-calling
49	 Id.
50	 Id.

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