At California Detention Center, Immigrants Must Pay $20 For A Five-Minute Phone Call

Long known for exploiting inmate needs, immigration detention centers that generally contract out services like their phone systems, are generously paid by the federal government to hold ICE detainees. A group of 40 activists gathered outside the West County Detention Facility (WCDF) in Richmond, CA last Friday to protest the exorbitant phone rates that immigrant detainees have to pay in order to contact loved ones and lawyers.

Whereas state and federal penitentiaries must contract with the lowest bidder, county immigration detention centers like WCDF in Richmond, CA, can choose to go with a contractor that nets them the most kickbacks. In this case, WCDF went with Global Tel* Link which paid $75,000 for the contract and also forced families of detainees to buy credit before they can find out how much the phone calls cost.

Immigrant detainees at WCDF pay upwards of $20 to place a five-minute phone call. A connection fee of $3.25 is charged for all phone calls within the state with “per-minute rates running as high as 25 cents for interstate calls and an additional 30 cents when phoning out-of-state.” Calls are often dropped, but detainees must pay the connection fee regardless. A 20-minute phone call costs $14, which means that WCDF receives a 57 percent commission, or $7.98.

Reverend Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights said in an interview, “Families are being overcharged for the most basic things,” she said, “like telling relatives you love them, or speaking with their attorneys about their cases.” Inmates’ relatives often pay anywhere from $25-$50 for two or three brief calls. “It’s cruel and inhuman,” said Lee, “the stories we hear are heartbreaking.”


Without the financial wherewithal to contact lawyers, immigrant detainees could be detained longer than they otherwise would. Because prison systems do not consider contracts based on immigrant needs, like lower phone rates, they instead will continue contracts with phone systems that help them stay profitable.