Thursday, December 30, 2010

County's Commission: Phone System - Location, Location, Location

Loss of lifestyle choices and the resulting issues abound when it comes to losing freedom of choice through incarceration.

Let's say you're a federal prisoner, an inmate of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons who hails from anywhere in 50 states and territories. You fetch up at Waco, housed at the Jack Harwell Detention Center, operated and staffed by CEC (Civigenics), Inc., owned and financed by McLennan County.

Someone is looking for you. McLennan County, Texas, and the corporate officers of the CEC corporation of New Jersey.

The deal is this.

Let's say you're a county official looking to enhance a dwindling revenue stream now that investment income has tanked and the taxpayer dollar is worth much, much less.

Hey, it's a custodial and ministerial duty of the county government, most particularly the Sheriff, to provide custodial detention services for inmates awaiting trial or transfer to corrections facilities. Is there revenue to he bad in a transaction of that type?

Basic real estate principles apply, no matter what type of structure you build, or what your intended use. Location cubed is the answer to all questions, such as location, location, location.

That big word, if, is the preface to all inquiries; when is the first word in all the answers.

What else is new?

Try living this way and see how you like it. You don't get to pick out the color of your phone, nor do you have any privacy when you talk on the one they charge you nearly $5 for the first minute and anywhere from .28 to .89 to use, whether you're calling collect or have paid for the call on a pre-paid card.

All the phone calls are recorded and collected. The recordings are archived for 90 days, longer if they become part of a criminal or civil investigation.

Video visiting kiosks and pre-paid calling cards, jail non-contact visiting areas equipped and amortized through commissions on inmate phone calls, and commissary funds placed on an inmate's “books” through electronic means, from all of which transactions McLennan County collects a commission.


County Commissioners are chafing at the non-performance of this part of the scheme to finance and build the new 816-bed Jack Harwell Detention Center, located next door to the County Jail on Highway 6.

The expectation is that the “commission advance” arranged through a contract with the Reston, Virginia, communications company, GTL, in payments of $30,500 for 48 months and a 49th payment of $16,000.
Total cost: $1,480,000, “to be provided as a Commission advance to be recouped from commissions payable to the County,” according to an executive summary of the contract. The revenue is generated from a 57% commission that escalates at the rate of a quarter percent each year and peaks out at 58%.
“The desire initially was to fund the Video Visitation System out of revenues from the new facility, however, given the amount of $ advanced, and the delays involved in generating revenues from the new facility posed by completion and opening of the facility and it becoming populated, GTL would not agree to new-facility-specific recoupment,” according to the summary obtained in a Texas Open Records information request.

Where pre-paid calling cards are used, “they must be issued only by GTL, and GTL shall take all steps necessary to assure that all calling card revenues are included in the calculation of the County's commission.”

Who sells the cards? A vendor. “There is no down-side in that telephone revenues are not commissary revenues. GTL will merely pay a handling charge to the commissary vendor to sell the cards, which does not come out of the County's commission.

How much are phone calls?

Pre-paid card calls or collect, they start at $4.10 for the first minute, plus .26 per minute to $4.84 for the first minute and .89 per minute for “interstate, interlata” calls. Such a deal.

What does the county get?

At the Main Jail on Highway 6, 95 inmate telephones, 1 TDD unit for the hearing impaired, 90 days of storage of call recordings, 1 computer workstation, a printer, and the services of a site administrator/technician on call.

There are 27 inmate phones at the downtown Courthouse Annex Jail, provided with similar services and similar arrangements, 90 inmate phones at the new CEC Jail, and 14 inmate phones at the Juvenile Detention Center. There are video visitation terminals for friends a and family, monitored and recorded, of course, and attorney-client video terminals for privileged communications that are not recorded.

According to County Purchasing Director Ken Bass, none of the arrangements were made as in a normal public bidding process. “There was no issuance of an RFQ (request for qualifications) and/or RFP (request for proposal). The GTL License Agreement is a service agreement and did not involve the expense of County Funds.”
It's difficult to see it that way, since the land upon which the video visitation center was acquired at taxpayer expense. Though the original bond agreement called for the construction company and CEC to build a non-contact visitation area, the plans called for more property upon which to build it.
It is taxpayer money in that the revenue was calculated in the budget and when the increased revenue did not materialize due to delays in finishing the project and a lack of prisoners, the payments still had to be made.

The budget, on which the tax rate was set, included the revenue projection from this contract. If the revenue is not realized, taxpayers make up the difference.
It was not supposed to be that way, under the terms of the agreement and the issuance of Class AA municipal revenue bonds for the Public Facility Corporation.

The bond issue did not require voter approval.

Buy Bonds!

- The Legendary


  1. Hi-

    I was actually part of the selection process. I was one of the vendors for video visitation. First of all, what they charged for that system was extraordinary. Almost twice what it should cost. Secondly, the whole process was shady because they had all these vendors come in and give presentations and proposals, only to somehow just end up with GTL. Yes, it is a service offering, but they are providing hardware, in a round about way. I guess that is how things are done sometimes.

  2. Contents with this blog are beneficial and also appreciative.

    Chris Bech Norway & Chris Bech Investments

  3. Thank you. I am honored. - The Legendary