Photo (cc) by abardwell
Many inmates in the U.S. are held prisoner by more than the bars that confine them. They’re prisoner to the high costs of keeping in contact with the outside world.
Private businesses, like Global Tel-Link and JPay, control telecommunication services at countless prisons across the nation. They’re charging inmates and their families’ huge fees to send an email, make a phone call or send a money transfer. According to The New York Times:
These companies are part of a new breed of businesses flourishing inside American jails and prisons. Many of these players are being bankrolled by one of the most powerful forces in American finance: private equity. Private investment firms have invested many billions of dollars in the prison industry, betting — correctly — that it is a growth business.
It’s a lucrative business, as these companies are typically untouched by consumer regulations, the Times said. And state and local governments benefit by taking a cut of the revenues. Prisoners are charged upward of 33 cents to send one email and $3.15 to make an in-state telephone call.
In an effort to make it easier for inmates to keep in touch with their families, the ACLU launched a successful campaign with the Federal Communications Commission in 2013 to stop price gouging.
“Prisoners are charged up to $17 for a 15-minute phone call — a call that might cost $2 outside of prison,” the ACLU said. The FCC ended up capping the price of interstate prisoner calls at 25 cents per minute, but calls within states are still unregulated. According to the ACLU:
Phone companies shouldn’t be able to profit off prisoners trying to be good parents and good family members. Steep prices mean many prisoners won’t be able to call home as often, and that’s bad for public safety — when prisoners keep in touch with their families, they are less likely to re-offend and wind up back behind bars.
Companies like Global Tel-Link claim they need to charge high rates because of security concerns. “Inmates’ access to financial services, telephones and the Internet is limited and, in most cases, monitored by providers,” the Times said.
The high cost of keeping in contact with the outside world has spurred a number of inmates to file suits, challenging the exorbitant rates.
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