As per Federal Bureau of Prisons "….Telephone privileges are a supplemental means of maintaining community and family ties that will contribute to an inmate's personal development."
However, inmates are virtually at the mercy of correctional authorities for making call as well as paying for it. Many bid for providing telephone services in correctional facilities are not decided in favor of the lowest bid but in favor of the company who promises to gives maximum commission to the facilities. At time the charges are as much as five times the charges one has to pay for normal call from outside the correctional facility. The burden of this ultimately goes to the family of inmate and for many of them it's very difficult to afford the high cost.
The commission at time is as high as 65% of the revenue generated. Many facilities allow only collect call because the collect calls are most expensive and that increases their commission. Apart form the high call charges the inmate pay phone service provider also charge many fees such as:
Public Staff has calculated that this way consumer have been made to pay over $6.3 million dollars in just one telephone company and one detention facility. Thus, more than 18,000 correctional facilities in the U.S. together have made huge sums of money. Realizing the potential of phone calls to make money, Texas changed its old policy to permit prisoners with no rule violations 1 call every 3 months. Realizing the potential of making money, Maine's DOC themselves started giving the telephone service and cut down on the middle man (telephone companies) to make more money themselves. Over and above this the State's highest court has ruled that the Public Utilities Commission has no jurisdiction to regulate the practice.
After long wait a legislations called "The Family Telephone Connection Protection Act of 2009" has been submitted. The legislation is aimed to direct the Federal Communications Commission to exercise its authority to intercede on behalf of consumers with sensible regulation of the prison pay-phone industry. The bill has been referred to the committee for deliberations. Support of people is being garnered for its approval and more than 80 people have signed the petition asking President to cap the rates that can be charged on prisoner-initiated phone calls
High rates charged for prison phone calls breaks family ties
Dr. B. Cayenne Bird
August 15, 2009