Inmates Cash in on Prison Phone Glitch


From Arelis R. Hernández at the Orlando Sentinel comes a hilariously idiotic story of a jail in Lake County, Florida, where rather than having money withdrawn from their accounts, inmates were paid to make phone calls. So much so that one man bonded out after making 77 calls and having $1,250 deposited into his account. He ended up turning himself in a few hours later.

News of the bug floated to other inmates, who began to spend inordinate amounts of time on the phone.

Global Tel*Link — the company that provides the jail’s inmate phone system — charges the cost of a call from inmate trust accounts at a rate of $2.58 for local calls, $13.85 for long distance and $23.68 for international calls.

If no one answers or the caller hangs up, the money is returned to the account, officials said.

But in early July something bizarre happened. The system was reimbursing inmates twice for incomplete calls — allowing them to make a profit.

The jail’s IT department noticed the glitch just as another inmate was getting ready to walk.

Kevin Tomlinson was in the middle of paying his $1,400 bond when investigators caught up with him.

The glitch lasted 24 hours and affected about 256 jail inmate accounts. Officials aren’t sure how much was deposited.

[HT: Eric Samuelson]


Wow! This company (like many in the prison industry) was charging ridiculous rates for a completely mundane service. There must be some seriously screwed up market dynamics here - surely a good sign for the prospects of our continued privatization of the prison system.


Inmates are a captive audience for the inmate phone industry (pun intended), which allows the monopoly phone provider to charge exorbitant rates. Of course, these companies don't make much profit, because the jail requires competing phone companies to bid for the monopoly rights, so the jail usually gets the monopoly profits, not the inmate phone company.

Of course, the inmate phone company will complain of the high costs of ensuring safety (they don't want inmates prank calling or making illegal deals from these phones, so they do need elaborate security measures. But the very fact that the inmate phone company makes payments to the jails for the monopoly rights shows that the inmates (or their families when the calls are collect) are being overcharged.

Personally, I would like to see a study on inmate payphone rates vs. recidivism, because I think we are creating our own crime problem with this practice.


Mike B

Instead of talking about prison phone glitches, why don't you discuss the corrupt bail-bond process that saddles government with the cost of imprisoning low risk offenders who can't afford the high bail amounts lobbied for by the bail-bond industry?


Now see, that's what you call a good -cell- phone plan. Hahaha...umm, yeah.


2.58 for local call? Obviously these inmates are very good business for some selected "businesses". This explains why U.S. has highest incarceration rates in the world - where there is a demand, there is a supply. I wonder what is the side of kick-back?


Rinky dink telecom was a political scandal up here my way several years ago. In fact, one of our two presidential candidates up here had connections to one of these, although it was purely private sector chicanery.


Also see

I'm sure these guys are on the up and up and nobody is getting a kickback.

Caleb b

"This explains why U.S. has highest incarceration rates in the world"

Really? We lock people up so they can pay high phone bills? Jeeze, and I thought we locked people up because they committed crimes.

Steve Bennett

Let's just say there are lots of incentives in favour of incarceration (private prisons paid per prisoner, cheap prison labour...the phone calls is a minor example). And lo, there is lots of incarceration.


As a general rule, jails are places where people charged with offenses - the accused - who cannot make bond are kept, as well as minor offenders who are not ever going to be in the prison system.

That's an insightful comment, dude, about them being "criminals," ripe for a ripoff, and met with indifference.

Tea Party Constitutionalism! I feel safe. Where can I vote for you?

Caleb b

"the accused – who cannot make bond are kept".

Well, as my wife and many of our family friends are lawyers, I'm pretty familiar with both jail and bond. The accused you are talking about, are almost always guilty, of drugs. Look, I agree, I don't like the bail process or how it's rigged for the bailbondsmen, but to say we lock people up so they can pay a high phone bill is just stupid. Police arrest people because they are breaking the law, which makes them a 'criminal'. I don't like US drug laws, but to imply that the accused aren't guilty more often than not is to deny reality. Ask a public defender, it's pretty depressing.


The whole system is corrupt in LakeCounty my brother is now incarcerated the bails are ridiculas so the bailbondsman make money lawyers useless and he has to pay for everything in jail.I am a corrections officer in NYC and NEVER saw a system like yours .All this because he defended himself in a fight unreal .