Global Tel Link Corporation has received the go-ahead to speed up tablet distribution “free of charge” to all incarcerated people in California prisons after a bitter court battle.
The rollout was slowed because of a lawsuit filed in a Sacramento court in September 2021 by Securus/JPay over a bidding dispute, according to Prison Legal News.
The court had set aside an award by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation of a contract with GTL for telecommunications services to prisoners.
“In the end, CDCR got its way and awarded the contract to GTL/ViaPath,” said the article. Securus’ pilot programs ended June 30, when the CDCR website promised the lawsuit’s victor would “distribute tablets free of charge to all incarcerated people.”
The battle was waged over a lucrative market for prisoner gaming, reading and listening material delivered via the tablets, which are also used to make audio and video calls.
According to Prison Legal News, in August 2020 CDCR and the Department of Technology solicited bids by way of a Request for Proposals followed by negotiations pursuant to the Public Contract Code. The bids were to be evaluated under a system assigning each a maximum of 2,000 points, 30% of which was allocated to costs.
The following warning appeared under the “Costs” section: “The state has established a not-to-exceed (NTE) for this procurement. Bidders’ rates for calls must not exceed $.05 per minute. Bidders may propose rates lower than the NTE identified.” Bids were to apply to all calls, including video and voice calls.
After a search under the Public Records Act, Securus alleged in a complaint that GTL was given an unfair advantage during the bidding process in violation of Public Contract Code.
Due to the choice of GTL over Securus, prisoners and their families “now pay over $12 million more per year for video calling than they would under Securus,” the complaint stated. It also alleged that the state did not investigate GTL’s
misrepresentations regarding its experience in providing the services sought by the Request for Proposals.
The court ultimately found that the Department of Technology held Securus alone to the not-to-exceed provisions while allowing GTL to exceed it for video calls and international telephone calls. It stated that, “Respondents granted GTL an unfair advantage the California law proscribes.”
The court granted a writ of mandate for failure to impose the not-to-exceed provisions on GTL and set aside the contract. But it allowed the state to continue to employ GTL to provide contracted services on one or more interim arrangements reached independently of the contract.
“The ruling disrupted GTL’s rollout of new tablets to state prisoners under the contract, which in turn had stuck a dagger in the heart of a tablet rollout underway by competitor Securus Technologies’/JPay, expanding on a pilot program launched at five state prisons in 2017,” the Prison Legal News said.