For years, people who have loved ones in jail or prison have complained about phone service providers who charge sky-high fees for the ability to call and chat with an inmate. Charges can reach as high as $14 per minute. A recent New York Times article bluntly labels this price-gouging.
The efforts of inmates’ families to change the system have finally been rewarded. Recently, the Federal Communications Commission set limits on the rates inmates communications companies charge for most phone calls. This ruling expands a similar move two years ago that applied to interstate phone calls.
There are both humanitarian and practical reasons to limit the charges. It is hard to justify forcing inmates’ loved ones, many of whom are poor, to choose between buying necessities and staying in contact. Reforms are also in the public interest. Advocates have shown that a prisoner who maintains contact with family and community while serving time is less likely to return to crime and end up back in jail That benefits everybody.
There is more to be done. The FCC’s current rules do not cover other types of personal telecommunication like voice mail and video calls. The FCC is already moving ahead with public comment on this issue.
Both political leaders and advocates for inmates want the FCC to ban a common practice in which phone providers pay a kickback to corrections facilities. These payments add to the cost of inmate phone communications. However, it isn’t certain that the FCC has the authority to prohibit the use of these “commissions.” A final issue that reformers want to address is the practice of curtailing in-person visits with inmates. Where phone companies have persuaded prison officials to do this, inmates are left with no option but to pay the high calling rates.
It’s no news that the prison industry is struggling with overpopulation, but the effect it has on the staff of prisons is becoming more apparent. In Michigan, the Huron Valley Correctional Facility is a women’s prison who has recently experienced overcrowding due to the fact that it is the only women’s prison in Michigan. Instead of hiring more guards to accommodate the overpopulation, Huron Valley has implemented a new policy that requires all guards to work mandatory overtime. This doesn’t include holiday pay either. These shifts can thus last for days, and the end result on the guards causes them to be exhausted mentally and physically.
The prisoners are under pressure as well. The overcrowding causes more aggression in the inmates, and combined with the overworked staff makes for a tense atmosphere and dangerous situations. Without proper mental and physical health conditions, the possibility of the relations between the inmates and guards becoming aggressive is higher than ever. A spokesman for the Correctional Department has said on record that if a correctional officer cannot perform overtime duties, then they are disciplined. However, this matter could simply be solved with hiring more correctional officers. In which case the officers would be able to perform their jobs more effectively. The Correctional Department has stated that they are aware of the staffing problems, but have not made much of an effort to find more employees.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch wants to designate a National Re-entry Week to celebrate the prisoners released into society every year, but, at the same time, she is aware of the high recidivism rates and the laws that make the transition so difficult.
According to the American Bar Association, there are over 47,000 laws and local ordinances in the United States that are designed to penalize someone who has had a connection with the criminal justice system. They ultimately restrict the offender from attaining complete reintegration into society.
In New York, state prisoners are released every week with the same two challenges facing them: the lack of affordable housing and the inability to secure employment. Without these two essentials, ex-prisoners end up in NYC’s shelter system relying on government assistance when they should be encouraged to start a new life. These issues cause 80 percent of released prisoners to be arrested and returned to prison.
To combat these rising recidivism numbers, New York State is required to add something substantial that would improve the reentry for ex-prisoners, and the most readily accessible solution is reinstating the work release program. This program has already proven to be successful, so no additional research is needed, and it would address both issues.
Reinstating the work release program in New York would allow people to gain some amount of work experience and build savings for housing expenses. These are the two largest hurdles that released prisoners would pave the road to their re-entry into the real world.
By reinstating the program, everyone becomes a winner: the released prisoner gains confidence and security re-entering his environment and citizens of New York City are not spending their taxes on supporting the government-subsidized lifestyle. Most importantly, it prevents more unnecessary crime from taking place.
Communication in prison can be costly. The only real ways to communicate are by visiting, letters, or by email. If you are lucky, then you may be able to send emails. The main way to talk daily is the phone and it could cost.
Many prisons use the same telephone communication service, so it becomes a monopoly. The charges people have to pay to reach their loved ones is astronomical. People have been calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the FCC replied with a lawsuit. Despite the legal ruling, change has been slow.
Grayson County, TX have been asking that the phone company cap their fees to help comply with the ruling. The county jail and commissioners agree that keeping inmates connected with their families help to ease friction. They also want to use the phone system for law enforcement possibilities, but this shouldn’t cost the inmates or their family and friends.
Grayson County is slowly starting to make changes that have been years in the making, but many people still pay exorbitant fees to keep in touch with their family and friends in jail. The change is coming, but it is very slow. This system of high fees have been in place for a long time, and the jails and prisons must revise existing contracts to comply.