It can cost as much as $14 per minute to make a phone call from prison. Even though the FCC recently made efforts to lower the costs, new leadership at the FCC might mean that those plans are about to be abandoned. That’s because new FCC leaders aren’t willing to carry over the rules made by the prior administration. It’s going to keep the costs high for the 2.3 million people in prison in the United States and their loved ones who depend on phone calls to keep in touch.
In addition to high phone call costs, inmates also pay fees virtually unheard of in the outside world. From fees to put money in an account to high prices for commissary purchases, inmate dollars don’t go very far. An inmate can spend several day’s pay just to talk for a minute on the phone.
Most government contracts come down to who charges the least for services. If your business can do the work for 50 cents less, you’re likely to get the government contract. But that’s not how prison phone call service contract bidding works. Instead, the government awards the contract to the company that’s willing to give the government the greatest kickbacks. Agree to pay the government more money than the next guy, and you can charge prisoners whatever you like. While wireless customers throughout the country talk on the phone 24/7 without incurring additional charges, inmates are at the mercy of the company that agrees to give the government the most.
The FCC banned the practice of charging connection fees for inmates making outgoing calls. However, that wasn’t going to stop the companies who just renamed the fees to call them first-minute charges. Legal efforts to enforce measures to lower the costs have failed. The FCC’s past administration voted to cap the cost of phone calls between 11 cents and 22 cents per minute depending on the specific institution involved.
There are some things that make the prison phone system more expensive than phone calls on the outside. For example, prisoners can’t call judges or 900 numbers. Most calls are also recorded.
Studies show that kids who stay in touch with their incarcerated parents do better in school. In addition, prisoners who are able to connect with loved ones have a smoother reentry to society and lower recidivism rates. Some families with an incarcerated loved one say that they spend more money on phone calls than they spend on food.