The Scandal of Prison Phone Calls

The Scandal of Prison Phone Calls February 16, 2012

One of the many ways that governments screw over poor families and lock people into lives of crime is by charging huge amounts for phone calls from prisoners to their friends and families. Companies profit from it and so do state corrections budgets because they’re inflating the cost artificially:

According to Prison Legal News, the cost of making a long distance phone call from a prison in Oregon includes a $3.95 connection fee plus 69 cents a minute, costing $14.30 for a 15-minute call. Compare this with making a public call outside of prison, which costs anywhere from 5 to 10 cents per minute for long distance calls on landlines, costing a maximum of $1.50 for a 15-minute call.

For many families with loved ones behind bars, the choice between accepting a collect call and putting food on the table is a real and painful decision. It may come as a surprise to many that the increased cost of these calls has nothing to do with the actual service that is being delivered. What is actually happening is that prisons have designed a business system that allows them to offset their operation costs onto the shoulders of innocent families and to reap a profit.

The state prison kickback rate varies, with Texas accepting a 40% commission rate for phone calls and charging up to $6.45 for a 15-minute call. That same phone call provided by the same company in Maryland yields a 60% commission rate and costs a family member $17.30.

And this at a time when long distance charges are becoming a memory for many people. I haven’t paid a long distance charge in years because I get my landline through my cable internet provider. Cell phones also don’t carry any long distance charges either. It would be entirely easy for those calls not to cost a dime, but that would rob companies of profit and corrections departments of revenue.

Why does this matter? Because study after study has found that regular interaction with one’s family is a key factor in helping inmates reintegrate with society and avoid future legal troubles. A huge number of people in prison are fathers and mothers with children, often there on nothing more than drug possession charges. And by isolating them, it becomes far more likely that they will be forced into a life of crime, often violent crime, upon release. This is counterproductive and needs to stop.

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