Have You Ever Overpaid for Jail Calls? You May Be Entitled to Compensation
If you live in the United States and have ever had a loved one in jail, you know firsthand how stressful the experience can be. First, you need to get through to jail staff, which can take quite some time. It can also be frightening to not know where, exactly, your loved one has been placed in jail, how long he or she will be there, and what kind of legal counsel he or she will be able to retain.
However, lower-income families have faced a notorious additional burden for years. This burden is the extremely high cost of phone calls and video calls to jails. Though there are many price-gouging companies out there who specialize in this, a judge determined that one company in particular went above and beyond. Every person who's ever paid for calls through this company is considered a member of this suit.
Though prisons and jails in other states have contracted with the company, the primary target of the lawsuit is against a company used by almost every New Jersey jail and most prisons called "Global Tel Link". The company allegedly provides services to connect inmates with their loved ones.
However, this service came at a price that hit inmates, whose earning ability is obviously quite limited, very hard. This led to inmates needing to ask their families to accept collect calls; often, their families also didn't have too much spare cash lying around to do this. In effect, lower-income inmates were barred from contacting their families.
The suit alleges that the corporation in question charged variable rates that were always high. At one point, these per-minute rates exceeded the New Jersey market rate by one hundred times the standard! Essentially, if you were to use one of the few pay phones left in existence in New Jersey, you could expect to spend 1/100th of what a prisoner would spend to place the exact same call. The reason for the legal victory in this case is quite apparent.
What Took So Long?
If you're a member of this class or know a loved one who is a member of this class, you may recall that this was filed in New Jersey courts approximately seven years ago. Unfortunately, the wheels of justice turn slowly, but they apparently turn even more slowly for those who are incarcerated.
Unable to have the aid of computers, the entire suit had to be done through interviews and pencil and paper letters sent back and forth to courts. Of course, this came complete with Global Tel Link wanting to delay the results of the class action suit as long as possible and filing essentially every motion they could to either deny or delay a verdict.
After seven long years of fighting, a court-supervised settlement has been reached between the members of the class action suit and the company.
What Is the Settlement?
A judge in New Jersey just approved a settlement worth in excess of $25,000,000. Fortunately, because the state is required to keep records of all inmates, class assignment is automatic. It's important to note that the only true members of the class are the inmates themselves who have ever placed or received a call through this contractor.
The settlement applies slightly differently to inmates who are still in prison versus those who are either free or out on parole. For those still in prison, they should expect to receive account credits in an amount to be determined by the court. These prisoners will likely receive enough account credits to not need to worry about paying for calls ever again.
For those who are out of prison, a cash settlement can be expected. Because the population for this lawsuit is fairly small and has approximately $25,000,000 to go around, former prisoners who were victims of this predatory service should keep an eye on their mail for a fat check to arrive.
What About Families?
As we discussed, not only did this impact inmates, but their families as well. There will likely be a follow-on lawsuit for members of the family class who paid for collect calls. If you are in a state other than New Jersey, you should keep an eye out for this lawsuit to pop up. This is because this case has set a precedent for such a case to slide right through court!