We hear a lot in the news about “getting tough on crime” and the like. We very seldom hear about anything positive the government is doing for inmates and their families. Well, finally a bit of good news.
The FCC has announced that it is holding a public hearing tomorrow, Friday, August 9, to consider whether it should begin imposing limits on how much prisoners (in reality, their families) can be charged for telephone calls. Currently, two companies (Global Tel-Link and Securus Technologies) hold a virtual monopoly– controlling over 80% of the market for jail and prison telephone calls. The lack of any regulation has allowed them to charge rates as much as 10 times higher than the prevailing market rate for such calls.
The main reason for the high cost is that the companies pay a substantial “commission” to the facility in order to secure the contract. The companies regularly bid against each other and, typically, the one offering the biggest “piece of the action” to the prison or jail is the one that gets the contract.
Prisoner’s rights groups have been working for the last decade to get some oversight and regulation. Their concern is that it is actually the families of the inmates that bear the brunt of this financial hardship. Stories of people spending hundreds of dollars a month to stay in touch with loved ones serving time are common. Families who have a breadwinner serving time are already under a great deal of financial pressure, without the added burden of onerous telephone bills.
Studies have also shown that prisoners who keep in frequent contact with their families are more connected to the outside world and find it easier to assimilate into society when they are released. Anything that keeps them from being able to stay in such contact is therefore harmful to their rehabilitation. Ironically, it is the very “correctional” facilities that seem to be more interested in profiting from their inmate’s misery than doing what they are supposed to do– rehabilitate them so that we have less people in prison in the future.
Kudos to the FCC. We hope they follow through.