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State of Phone Justice: Local jails, state prisons and private phone providers

Highlights

A call from a Michigan jail costs $12 on average, and can go as high as $22 for 15 minutes (compared to $2.40 from the state’s prison system).

This policy brief from the Prison Policy Initiative provides an overview of prison and jail phone call fees and makes several recommendations to reform them. Although some state prisons have recently lowered the cost of phone calls for incarcerated people, county and city jails nationwide still charge $1 per minute or more. Charging exorbitant rates to incarcerated people can prohibit them from speaking to their lawyer, make it harder to stay in touch with family and thereby hinder efforts to post bail and/or build their defense.

You can read the full text of this report via Prison Policy Initiative.

Key Findings
  • A call from a Michigan jail costs $12 on average, and can go as high as $22 for 15 minutes (compared to $2.40 from the state’s prison system).
  • Phone calls from jail cost more than three times as much as phone calls from state prisons.
  • Although jails can negotiate lower rates, they rarely do, and many negotiate higher rates so that they can earn kickbacks.
  • When families pay for phone calls using money transfer services, a $25 transfer can incur as much as $10-12 in fees. To clarify, many telecommunications vendors require phone call payments to be processed through money transfer services such as JPay.
  • Phone providers bundle contracts (video calling, electronic tablets) with facilities in order to maintain their monopolies.
Recommendations for Corrections Facilities
  • Prohibit all commission payments (i.e. kickbacks for corrections facilities).
  • Negotiate better contracts based on delivering the best price to incarcerated people.
  • Consider making phone calls free.
  • Refuse to consider contracts that bundle telephone service with other goods and services.
  • Conduct realistic tests of how providers charge and treat customers.
Recommendations for State Legislatures
  • Require correctional contracts to be negotiated on the basis of lowest price to the consumer.
  • Encourage State Public Utility Commission to investigate and regulate prison and jail phone industry.
Recommendations for the Federal Government
  • The FCC should resume actively investigating the prison communications industry and reject Securus’ application to merge with ICSolutions.
  • Congress should pass legislation like the last Congress’ S. 2520 Inmate Calling Technical Corrections Act which would clarify FCC’s authority to regulate.
Peter Wagner and Alexi Jones, Prison Policy Initiative
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