Category Archives: Uncategorized

A debt for society: phone charges extort loved ones

If you pay any attention to prison issues, you’ve probably heard folks complain about the high cost of making a phone call while incarcerated. Here’s a snapshot of the situation:

Rates vary by state, but range from $.048/minute in New York to $3.95 + $.69/minute in Oregon (intrastate). That’s 72 cents for a fifteen minute call in New York versus $14.30 for a fifteen minute call in Oregon. Unfortunately Oregon inmates can’t request New York rates.

The higher rates are the result of kickbacks to state contracting agencies. Some states have no such “commissions,” while others charge up to 60% of revenues – raking in $152 million per year at an average of 42% of overall revenues nationwide.

Oddly enough, a CCA (private) prison in Oklahoma actually closed because of a binding contract with AT&T. The prison, located in Sayre, was home to about 1,000 Wisconsin prisoners who were getting charged such high rates for long distance phone calls that Wisconsin insisted AT&T lower the rates. When AT&T refused, the state of Wisconsin transferred all its prisoners to a different CCA facility with better rates, shutting down the Sayre prison and resulting in the loss of 225 jobs for Sayre residents.

While some people seem to think that this is a “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” kind of thing, this is not a price paid by incarcerated people. This is a price paid by their – disproportionately poor, disproportionately female – loved ones.

Positive relationships with family members is the number one indication of success upon re-entry for folks getting out of prison. A huge number of people in prison never receive a visit, especially if they’re sent to a private facility out of state. In light of that information, we should be paying people to make phone calls, not gouging them with rates when they do. When we make it harder for people to keep in touch with family, we increase the odds that we’ll be paying for their incarceration again shortly after their release.

See the Prison Legal News article here.

357 die in Honduras prison fire

357 people are dead in the wake of a fire that broke out in the prison in Comayagua, Honduras.

The prison housed over 800 people, which is well beyond its capacity. Officials believe the fire was either started by a short circuit in the electrical system, or by an incarcerated man setting fire to his mattress.

Can you imagine anything worse than being helpless, locked in a cell, as the prison fills with smoke? Maybe having your husband, brother, son, or father die that way.

Read more here.



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Black men in this country have a 32% chance of spending time in prison. Latino men have a 17% chance. White men have a 6% chance. Women as a whole are vastly less likely to go to prison than men, but women of color make up the overwhelming majority of women who do. (For these and more solid basic facts, check out the Sentencing Project’s fact sheet.)

It is tempting to assume that that’s because people of color are the ones committing all the crimes. But what if it had more to do with the fact that when people of color break the law – especially Black people – we notice, and we call the cops. When white people break the law, we give them the benefit of the doubt, or decide not to call the cops even though we know what they’re doing is wrong.

Think that’s unlikely? Or perhaps true to a limited extent, but only a little and certainly not enough to explain the differences?

Please, please watch this segment of NBC’s “What Would You Do?” I promise you it will be one of those things you bring up in casual conversation all the time.

Watch the video here.

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