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.

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