Laramie County, Wyoming Sheriffs' department blocks public records requests for their prison phone monopoly deal

Every crappy thing in the world is beta-tested on people who have little or no power, perfected, and brought to the rest of us — CCTV starts with prisoners, moves to mental institutions, then to schools, then to blue-collar workplaces, then airports, then white-collar workplaces, then everywhere.

Migrants, prisoners, old people, school kids, poor people — they're the beta-testers for everything bad that's headed for wide distribution, so it pays to keep close tabs on their treatment.

For example, prisons have long been the proving ground for abusive practices by unregulated phone monopolies. The sky-high prices charged by prisons for calls are the last vestige of the bad old days of incredible long-distance tariffs, and they extract billions from prisoners' families, with big kickbacks to states. There was some movement to rein in the worst abuses, but Trump's FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, killed those modest reforms (the prison phone monopolies used to be his clients, naturally), and the situation is getting worse.

But the perverse incentives created through revenue-sharing with predatory prison telcos are not limited to states; local sheriffs also make fortunes from monopoly pricing, with some counties getting 77% of the revenue from each call in kickbacks. Even with a 77% vig, it's an arrangement that's so profitable for carriers that they install and maintain the system for free.

Muckrock, the public records portal, has been requisitioning county prison phone contract docs from across America, and the stonewalling has begun. The Laramie, Wyoming County Sheriff's Department claims that its contracts are "trade secrets" and off-limits to public scrutiny.

Given how terrible the agreements we know about are, it's a sure bet that Laramie County has something shameful they're hiding (the alternative is that it's such a fabulously above-board deal that they want us to be pleasantly surprised and don't want to spoil the big reveal).

As part of a nationwide MuckRock survey, the request under the Wyoming Public Records Act was looking for the contract between the Sheriff's Office, which oversees the local jail, and the company providing telephone services to its inmates. Many local and state jails contract the provision of these services to companies like Securus, Global Tel Link, and ICSolutions; these contracts often include a commission for the Sheriff's Department or prison, allowing the agency to receive a portion of the charges shouldered by inmates, sometimes as high as 70 to 80% of total costs.

The rejection from Wyoming is one of the first of its kind that we've received on these requests. It's generally accepted as public record the agreement between a public entity and a company with which it is doing business, even where other redactions may apply.

Laramie County, Wyoming withholds prison phone contract under "trade secret" clause [Beryl Lipton/Muckrock]

Sheriffs Are Raking In Millions In Prison Phone Fees And Some Really Don't Want To Talk About It [Tim Cushing/Techdirt]