if you’re unlucky enough to be sent to prison in the United States, one thing you should know is that whether or not you will be able to maintain a meaningful relationship with your family, while you are incarcerated, almost entirely depends on which state you get locked up in. That’s because prices for inmates to make outgoing phone calls, the main way in which inmates in the nation’s prisons are able to stay in touch with loved ones, can vary by as much as $2 per minute, depending on which state you’re in.
Is $2 per minute really fair?
Some calling providers and prison administrators point to the fact that even though some inmates throughout the country are forced to pay completely exorbitant rates, it’s still perfectly fair. That’s because there is no Constitutional guarantee that inmates should be provided with telephones or any other means of communicating with the outside world. In effect, calling is nothing more than a privilege, so administrators can set the rates however they please.
But inmate advocacy groups, such as the Prison Policy Initiative, say that this is a short-sighted and callous approach to the question. They say that the majority of calling costs are shouldered by the loved ones of the inmates, not the inmates themselves. This added burden on the families of the incarcerated is tantamount to extrajudicial fines being imposed on innocent family members.
On top of all of this, critics of the current iaizzes-faire system of prisons charging whatever they feel like goes against the grain of what prisons are supposed to be all about, namely, the rehabilitation of inmates and their eventual reintegration into society. Many studies have shown that inmates who are allowed to stay in frequent contact with family and loved ones on the outside are more likely to become socialized to their pro-social milieu than to the anti-social persona one must adapt in order to make it in the tough prison environment, which is dominated by psychopaths and career criminals. These critics say that cheap phone calls, far from being a luxury for inmates, constitute a public good. This is because they allow inmates to successfully reintegrate back into society, causing less harm from crime and fewer direct costs to the taxpayer, due to fewer people needing to be locked up.
But prison administrators have another ace up their sleeve. They say that the funds provided by effectively taxing inmate phone calls, through the system of commissions that the service providers kick back to the institutions themselves, is absolutely crucial to their operations. In fact, many prison administrators have stated that if rate caps are ever imposed, they will have no choice but to simply remove all of the phones from their facilities, effectively ending any chance inmates have of staying in touch with family and loved ones on the outside.
These are just a few of the considerations that drive the highly complex topic of inmate calling prices.