Why are prison phones so expensive?

Ask Sean Barrera Reef how long her 27-year-old son, Gabe, has been imprisoned, and she answers exactly. “The 975th,” she told CBS News last month.

Valera Reef, 57, is tracking another number that is steadily increasing. After examining credit card and bank account statements, Valera Reef said she and her husband had spent $ 14,268 over the past two years, allowing Gabe to call from behind the bar.

Gabe spent time at facilities in three different counties in Michigan, sentenced to child pornography. This included nearly three months in Isabella County Prison last year, and a 2018 report by the Prison Policy Initiative took Valera Reef $ 18.97 to talk to him for 15 minutes. This is one of the highest rates in the country.

Proponents say the price of using the phone behind the bar can mean acting as a support system and blocking communication with loved ones who support rehabilitation. Thousands of prisoners became dependent on the phone after correctional facilities stopped direct visits to delay the spread of the coronavirus.

“They don’t have programming in these county prisons, so they won’t get anything unless we send them to them, whether in books, newspapers or conversations,” Valera Reef said. “Sometimes he doesn’t talk much when he calls, but having an external connection is still very important.”

“I used to go out for dinner and enjoy socializing a couple of times a week, but now I don’t,” she added. “We redirected those funds so that we could use them for him or to pay for these costs that we hadn’t encountered before.”

Isabella County Prison officials did not respond to requests for comment.

So why are the prices so high? According to experts, prisoners cannot search for telephone companies and are subject to monopolies and surcharges. Nationally, the average cost of a 15-minute call from prison is $ 5.74, but it can be as high as $ 24.82, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

These charges do not include additional charges such as account settings or voicemail playback charges.

“The telephone is a lifeline both inside and outside the country,” said Anne Jacobs, secretary-general of the John Jay College Justice and Opportunity Institute. “This is an exclusive service, so all calls from imprisoned people must be made to that service... “

Most people detained in county prisons are usually temporarily detained, often waiting for trial or entering the state system for longer sentences. It is housed. According to experts, it creates an environment of predatory telephone costs-individual prisons have less bargaining power with contractors than states. Prisons are also unlikely to be subject to legislation that protects people in state detention.

Last month, 373 organizations requested the US Senate to submit a bill banning the receipt of compensation from telecommunications providers. This often leads to higher call charges. The House of Representatives passed the Martha Light Telephone Judiciary as part of the next phase of coronavirus stimulation, but bailout talks are stalled at Capitol Hill. The law is named after a mother who had to choose between buying medicine or calling her imprisoned son.

The problem is exacerbated by the high prices of other goods and services behind the bar, one current prisoner, two former prisoners and three family members told CBS News. Budgeting means deciding whether to talk to your family or buy essentials.

This included Brent Alexander, who spent a month on drug charges in Benton County Prison, Arkansas earlier this year. He often called only twice during his stay and chose to use cheap email services to save his family money.

“When I was trapped, I told my mother I would just put $ 100 there, and I can keep it going for a month,” added Alexander, 33. “That’s what my deodorant is like. You may need food from the store because you don’t get enough food.”

Throughout the pandemic, correctional facilities emerged as hotspots, urging all 50 states to somehow stop their visits. According to The Marshall Project, 14 states have reintroduced restricted visits this month. Non-contact visits have also resumed at facilities supervised by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai wrote in July a letter urging the state to crack down on the “terrible” rate of prisoners’ telephone calls, citing their dependence on services during the pandemic. The FCC can only control interstate calls. Interstate calls are, on average, less frequent and less expensive than intrastate calls. The Commission set a cap of 21 cents per minute for prepaid calls in 2015. In August, we unanimously voted and started the process of further reducing prices.

This issue has hit the NBA again this month. Detroit Pistons owner Tom Goaz faced a scrutiny of the relationship between his investment firm and the prison telephone company Secrus. Activists are asking Gore to resign his role on the team or sell him from the company. Gores later promised to invest his interests in reform issues.

Studies have shown that family visits have a positive impact on the well-being of prisoners, the likelihood of violating rules during imprisonment, and the likelihood of returning to prison after being released.

This is the role that Valera Reef currently offers over the phone. She said Gabe is currently detained in Huron County Jail, Michigan, and costs $ 4.50. 15 minutes call. It’s significantly lower than what she had paid before, but the charges are still added. She talks to him twice a day, seven days a week.

“This is part of the collateral damage,” added Valera Reef. “The cost we pay to get to know our loved ones.”

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