Prisoners must have access to loved ones, lawyers at affordable prices

Posted by Pete Eyre on Thursday, April 14, 2011

Prison Phone Justice – a new campaign launched by our friends at Prison Legal News (PLN) to “challenge prison phone kickbacks and the U.S. Prison Telephone Industry” – could dramatically improve the lives of those caged by lessening their costs when calling the outside world.

This past week PLN announced their exhaustive report that details the bureaucratic kickback structure that has spawned as a result of the warehousing of individuals in cages. According to their press release:

The report, based on several years of research that included submitting public records requests in all 50 states, found that prison phone companies routinely provide kickbacks – euphemistically known as “commissions” – to contracting government agencies, based on a percentage of the revenue earned from prisoners’ phone calls.

These kickbacks, which average 42% of gross revenue, generated over $152 million nationwide in 2007-2008. Since the vast majority of prisoners’ phone calls are paid by their families, either by accepting collect calls or by funding pre-paid or debit accounts, most of the kickback money comes from prisoners’ family members.

According to the Facts page on Prison Phone Justice:

Women prisoners need to talk to their children

Put into simple terms, up to 60% of the costs of calls from prison has nothing to do with the cost of the phone service provided. So when Mary talks to her husband 40% percent of the cost is for the service and 60% is a kickback to the state government.

Though I’ve never been caged in prison, I have experienced the restrictive access and prohibitive cost of making calls from jail. When my friend Ademo was jailed in Las Vegas there was a $10 fee each time he called out, plus a charge for each minute on the phone. For those caged for longer periods of time (prison entails a sentence of over a year) it only compounds the financial burden to the family on the outside. Not only are they left without the income that that caged person may have contributed (a loss), but merely staying in touch erodes their bottom line (another loss).

Help Prison Phone Justice change the Status Quo. Make it easier for those caged to reach their loved ones, to have better access to legal help and other resources, and to do interviews to share their story with others.

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