Prison Phone Calls

The High Cost of Calling Home

Last post I looked at some new technology that gives the loved ones of inmates who live at a distance a new way of visiting: video calls. Those who live a significant distance away, or have young children, or an unforgiving work schedule that bars them from normal visiting hours find this new opportunity intriguing. Unfortunately, this new technology may come at a high price in some jails.

A Phone Call Cost’s How Much?

Inmate’s loved ones have nearly all experienced the exorbitant cost of prison phone calls. Until the government ruling this past February phone call costs could vary significantly from facility to facility, costing as much as $17 for a 15 minute phone call!

Facilities’ Viewpoint

Most facilities say they’ve already gone with the lowest bidder they can find. They say that significant wear and tear occurs to jail phones. At times they have had to replace multiple phones each week. The cost of that destruction then affects the inmates, and ultimately their families.

Families’ Viewpoint

Inmate’s non-incarcerated loved ones have often felt violated by those high costs. When it comes to paying this months’ rent, or staying in communication with family which would you choose? This is the real but difficult decision that has faced the families of inmates for decades.

Government’s Viewpoint

This February, the government made it clear that the price gouging going on was unacceptable. They have put clear consistent limits on how much a facility can charge per phone call per minute. I have to wonder if they will soon do the same for video calls.

A Video Call Costs How Much?

Now that this new venue for contact has opened up facilities around the nation are implementing upgrades. But, prices for video calling varies from facility to facility. In th e price checking I did I found one jail that charged $20 for 20 minutes (a dollar a minute)

In another facility that is still installing equipment the cost for a call was estimated at about $10 for 20 minutes, or half the first cost.

A third facility looks to charge the same amount, listing a half hour call at $15.

Facilities’ Viewpoint

Each facility that has installed a video call system has grand expectations for it. Among the expected benefits:

·         Less Contraband Exchanged
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·         Decrease Traffic

·         Increase Amount of Visiting time for inmates

·         Less risk for staff in escorting inmates to visitation rooms

These do seem to be advantageous to the jails themselves, but will the system assist the loved ones of inmates?

Families’ Viewpoint

Some families are very excited to be saving on gas and time while increasing visitation time. Those with sick/disabled family members who might have difficulty visiting will now have easier access.

Not all are pleased with video calls though. The inmates and families in Travis County feel they’ve been taken advantage of by the system and want their face to face visits back. Despite the fact that video visits from the jail itself do not cost extra these inmates are wanting a change right away.
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