If you have a loved one who is incarcerated, you undoubtedly know about the outrageous costs of staying in touch. Prison telecommunications providers like Global Tel Link and others have made gouging customers into a cottage industry.
Sadly, many of the people who rely upon these companies to communicate with inmates cannot afford it. They are often placed in a position of placing the call or not placing the call, which opens another can of worms within the prison industrial complex. According to some callers, 15 minutes could easily cost $12.95. “This is outrageous,” says Heather Kofalt, of Franklin, PA.
Kofalt’s husband Anthony has been incarcerated for nearly a year after he stole some items out of K-Mart. The prison is several hours away from their hometown, so Kofalt thought it would be more feasible to stay in contact by phone — or, so she thought. As it turns out, the same phone call from a regular non-prison call would cost only 60 cents.
Kofalt works as a healthcare aid. She lives in a house with her son, girlfriend and two grandchildren. “I don’t have much. I don’t understand why the system punishes individuals who haven’t done anything,” says Kofalt. Many in her predicament share her sentiments.
It was the late 1990s when it all began. Someone devised a way to make a fat lick off prison telecommunications, and today it’s a $1.2 billion-a-year industry. And the people who are getting ground beneath gears of this massive machine are the poor.
After years of complaints from customers and prison rights groups, there may be some relief on the horizon in the form of the Federal Communications Commission. They are investigating the largely unregulated industry for wrongdoing. If the FCC gets its way, people will start paying for prison phone calls at a much lower rate. But it’s not going to happen overnight.