Paying for Jail: How County Jails Extract Wealth from New York Communities

This report examines the burdensome costs of phone calls, commissary, and disciplinary tickets assessed by New York jails, specifically those outside of New York City. The authors explain how telecommunications providers and commissary suppliers take advantage of the families of people in New York City jails through perverse price gouging practices and provide data demonstrating how the counties where these jails are located benefit from their constituents paying for these overpriced services. 

You can read the full text of the report here.

Key findings
  • The cost of a phone call from a jail in New York, $8.83, is 50 percent more expensive than the national average for a jail phone call, $5.86. 
  • In 2017 alone, data from 18 counties indicates that people  spent more than $4.8 million on jail phone calls. 
  • Commissary data provided by 12 counties points to a $1.7 million total in annual purchases 
  • More than $41,000 in disciplinary ticket fines were collected across nine counties.
  • In the counties that provided data regarding phone calls, commissary, and disciplinary tickets, residents spent 6 percent of their average monthly income, or a fifth of the average cost of rent ($152), on these expenses. 
  • Nationally GTL charges an average of $3.94  for a 15-minute call, compared to $9.56 on average in New York.
  • In 2017, 14 counties received $1.7 million in corporate kickbacks as part of their contracts with jail phone call providers. 
  • Connect families by providing telecom services at no cost to incarcerated people or their loved ones
  • Ensure access to basic necessities and end commissary mark-ups
  • Eliminate disciplinary fines
  • End criminal legal system fines and fees
Katie Schaffer, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, Bianca Tylek, Worth Rises, Robert Calahan