Source: Kalena Thomhave, American Prospect, October 12, 2017
When inmates are able to speak to friends and family while incarcerated, it not only improves their lives, but also, studies have shown, reduces recidivism after they leave prison. But to fill in budget holes or to make a profit, many state and local governments work with companies that put a high price tag on this basic need for the incarcerated. A handful of companies monopolize the prison phone industry, and their control of the market allows them to charge exorbitant rates for inmate calls to their homes. States that contract with these providers tend to choose the contractor that provides not the lowest price, but the highest commission rate for the state. As a result, prisoners and their families may pay up to $1 per minute on a call. …
Face-to-Face Family Visits Return to Some Jails
Source: Mindy Fetterman, The Pew Charitable Trusts, February 15, 2017
… Jailhouse visits like this one between family members and inmates are starting to make a comeback, replacing a decadeslong trend of requiring families to use Skype-like video technology in which families dial in from a computer at home, a public library or inside the jail itself to talk to a loved one who is incarcerated. The reason: Video technology companies came under criticism for charging high fees and for providing poor quality video connections. And evidence is growing that in-person visits help cut the likelihood that inmates will return to jail once they get out. Counties in Texas and Mississippi as well as the District of Columbia are reinstating face-to-face visits. A few states, like New Jersey, are considering legislation to allow in-person visits again.
… Although in-person visits remain the most common form of interaction between inmates and family members, the trend toward video visitation has been growing since the late 1990s. More than 500 jails and state prisons in 43 states have some sort of video visitation system, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. About 12 percent of jails have it, according to a study by PPI, which advocates for prisoners and their families. … And as video visitation has increased, face-to-face visitation has declined. The PPI found in a 2015 study that 74 percent of jails dropped in-person visits when they started video visits. Often the private companies that provide video visitation services require governments to drop in-person visits. … More than one in three families go into debt to cover the costs of staying in touch with people who are incarcerated, including paying for video calls, telephone calls and travel expenses for trips to jails and especially prisons, which can be hundreds of miles away, according to a survey of families by the Ella Baker Center, a nonprofit that advocates against mass incarceration. … Those fees have come under criticism for being a “kickback” for governments, too. … The controversy over the cost of video visitation calls is part of a larger debate over the high cost of regular telephone calls for inmates. …
FCC made a case for limiting cost of prison phone calls. Not anymore.
Source: Ann E. Marimow, The Washington Post, February 5, 2017
Federal regulators no longer are pressing to cut the costs of most prison phone calls, backing away from a years-long effort to limit charges imposed by a handful of private companies on inmates and their families. The shift by the Federal Communications Commission comes as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Monday considers whether commissioners went too far when they capped prices for inmate calls that had reached more than a $1 per minute. To make phone calls from most federal and state prisons, inmates generally must set up accounts with a private company to hold money deposited by family members. The companies typically have a contract with the prisons, which receive a portion of the call revenue. Federal regulators had pushed since 2013 to lower the costs, saying the prices made it too hard for relatives to stay in touch. But a week after President Trump tapped a new leader for the FCC, the commission’s attorneys changed course and told the court that the FCC no longer would defend one of its own key provisions that limited fees for prisoners’ intrastate calls. … But supporters of the FCC’s limits say the phone contracts are being awarded on the basis of companies’ willingness to pay the highest commissions to prison systems — not on the basis of lowest rates or best service. In 2013, phone-service companies paid at least $460 million in commissions to correctional facilities, according to a brief filed by a coalition of advocates for inmates and their families. A number of state prison systems, including in New York’s, Mississippi’s and New Jersey’s, have taken steps to reduce rates and in some cases to limit commissions. …