The criminal justice reform in the United States has clear goals: decrease the prison population in the country, reduce prison sentences and eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders.
While the reform is to be lauded, it seems that the overhaul has neglected one aspect: the broken market for inmate calling services.
Inmate calling services: a malfunctioning system
An article published by Wired claims that inmate calling services providers win contracts not because they are the lowest-cost bidders. Rather, they win because they commit to pay the highest “commissions” to correctional facilities.
This practice ultimately results in excessive phone call charges, which can go as high as $14 per minute.
The article further adds that these companies evade rules just to make a profit.
For example, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) barred excessive charges to connect calls, service providers renamed the fees “first-minute” charges.
Companies also charge a fee for depositing money into inmates’ accounts, taking money out of their accounts, and refunding leftover money in the accounts once the inmates are released.
How faulty inmate calling system affects inmates, prison loved ones and society?
The faulty inmate calling system has adverse effects on inmates, prison loved ones and the society as a whole.
It particularly affects the 2.7 million children of incarcerated parents, as well as family members and friends who pay exorbitant rates to keep in touch with their loved ones in prisons. For many families with incarcerated relatives, their phone budget is often bigger than their budget for food.
Teachers and guidance counselors have noted that inmates’ children fare well in school and are expelled less often when they have constant communication with their incarcerated parents.
Several studies also show that inmates who are more connected with their family have lower chances of going back to prison. This translates to fewer crimes, lower incarceration costs, and a more productive society.
FCC imposed Caps on Call Rates
In 2013 and 2015, the FCC imposed caps on rates in its attempt to restrain the corrupt system of inmate calling.
Since then, the agency has recorded an increase in the number of inmate calling services-related complaints.
But earlier this year, the DC Circuit Court reversed these reforms due partly to the refusal of the new presidential administration to fully support the rules that the watchdog agency had endorsed.
The time to act is now.
Now is the time to act to put a stop on faulty inmate calling system. How can this be done?
- FCC needs to implement targeted rules to tackle interstate calls costs.
- States and localities should reform their practices to eliminate kickbacks and cap rates
- Congress must enact a legislative solution that will provide a solid legal foundation for inmate calling reforms.
- Policymakers must help new services and technologies enter the inmate calling services marketplace, intensify competition and lower prices.