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Imagine if this was how your daughter had to talk with you.

The auto-operator starts its message “Will you accept a collect call from...”  Mary's dad speaks quickly “Better be doing that homework. Love you.”  Mary can only mouth back her answer, unable to accept the call since her dad is being held in one of our nation’s prison where the cost of prison phone calls include an outrageous cash kickback that most cannot afford.

There is a nation inside our nation, a population the equivalent in numbers to the country of Jamaica, behind bars whose small pocketbooks represent a mineral to be strip-mined and extracted by our telecommunication companies and corporate interests like Goldman Sachs.

(more below the fold, plus media)

I live in rural America, where most of our nation’s prisons have been built over the past twenty-years and I can attest to the hardships of high prison phone call take on prisoner families as they fight to maintain their families.  I know Mary from her calls into our weekly volunteer run radio show that sends messages over the airwaves and through prison walls for free.  A small response to the cost of prison phone calls.

Prison Legal News Report

The human rights group, Prison Legal News, has released a damning new report on prison phone kickbacks.  Their discovery is that it is not the cost of the calls from prison, but the kickbacks that states demand for the contracts that children like Mary cut off from their father.

The report, based on several years of research that included submitting public records requests in all 50 states, found that prison phone companies routinely provide kickbacks – euphemistically known as “commissions” – to contracting government agencies, based on a percentage of the revenue earned from prisoners’ phone calls.

These kickbacks, which average 42% of gross revenue, generated over $152 million nationwide in 2007-2008.

PLN found that 42 states accept kickback commissions from prison phone companies, which include Unisys, Securus and Global Tel*Link (partly owned by investment banking firm Goldman Sachs). In some cases the commissions exceed 60% of prison phone revenue.

I’ve talked to grandmothers on fixed incomes who cut corners so her grandchildren can talk to her father.  Fleecing our most vulenerable families with exorbitnate phone rates is a shameful practice.

There is a national “Prison Phone Justice Campaign” connected with the report.  (full disclousure – our rural radio show which plays prisoner family calls each week to help reduce their costs is involved)

Take Action

Become a Prison Phone Justice Champion

How have prison phone costs impacted your family? Call our toll-free line, 24/7, and record your story today. Speak from the heart: 877-518-0606.

Tweet this:
Prison phone kickbacks takes dollars from families that could go for groceries & school supplies. #prisonphone

Read Read the full report

How does your state match up?

Originally posted to appalachia on Thu Apr 14, 2011 at 08:46 AM PDT.

Also republished by Inherent Human Rights.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I never knew (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hopeful human

    There are times when old Ma Bell looks good.

    "People should not be afraid of their government; governments should be afraid of their people." --V

    by MikeTheLiberal on Thu Apr 14, 2011 at 08:55:47 AM PDT

  •  No doubt. r/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hopeful human
  •  I went through this once when my son (9+ / 0-)

    was arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He was held for 4.5 months without being charged.  They claimed there was an "open warrant" for his arrest, but were never able to produce one.

    His lawyer wasn't able to get the "evidence" against him until after the local DA was re-elected, the evidence, such as it was; became available the next day.  The local paper had run a headline indicating they had made a huge drug bust, but in the end he was released and the guy who's house he was at got a slap on the wrist, although his dad died of a heart attack while he was in jail.  

    In the meantime, I was out of state and didn't have my own phone.  It was a nightmare taking calls.  I had to get a phone, quick, and had those expensive calls, especially after he was assaulted in jail.  It cost more than the phone calls from another son when he was stationed in Germany for two years!

    The good news is that he doesn't have a record and came away with a decision to avoid all situations that could get him back in jail, the bad news is that I lost all faith in the justice system after I saw how it could be manipulated to make a DA look good for an election.  

    •  Human Rights (9+ / 0-)
      It was a nightmare taking calls.  I had to get a phone, quick, and had those expensive calls, especially after he was assaulted in jail.  

      I connect the high cost of prison phone calls directly to human rights abuses inside our nation's jail, prisons, and detention centers.  The lack of "sunlight" or folks calls creates barriers to getting reports out on abuses.  Along with the economic issues there is a human rights issue connected with the high phone costs.  The change has to happen either at a state-by-state level or with the FCC finally stepping up and taking action.

      •  I didn't know the extent of his injuries, (6+ / 0-)

        or even that he had been jumped by 5-6 guys in his "pod", I just knew he was calling a lot and was pretty down. I wrote it off to the fact that he was in jail.

        He has told me just recently (10 years later) the extent of his injuries and the fact that he couldn't rat anyone out and had to be very careful of what he said on the phone because it was all monitored.

        There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to help your child.  They had set a million dollar bond initially that I couldn't touch that was later lowered to $25K!  He was finally bonded out, but they really didn't drop the charges for over 6 months.  

        My dad was a police officer and would roll over in his grave at what passes for law enforcement.  The cops involved in my son's arrest were transplanted NYC cops who had moved to the sunny SW.  Apparently they brought their tactics with them.  

  •  Not completely off-topic.. (5+ / 0-)

    I received a bill after accepting a collect call made from a phone booth outside the "main jail" here for 27 dollars and change for a 2 minute conversation.

    Makes me wonder who the real criminals are.

    An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics - Plutarch

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Thu Apr 14, 2011 at 10:33:12 AM PDT

    •  Crazy (3+ / 0-)

      I spoken with families who think of calls from prison the same way some of us think about our mortgage payment.  It impacts their budget that much.  The crazy thing is that in states where they stop taking kickbacks the rates go down and the earnings for the company goes up.  So in Virginia, the telecoms. actually helped fight to end kickbacks.  Hopefull the FCC will get rolling on this issue.

  •  I'd call that number with my own story (3+ / 0-)

    but I turned off my cell phone to save $$. oh, the irony.

    great diary. in CA prison where I was, you'd typically spend more on the 'connection fee' than the actual phone call.

    LA County Jail also makes lots of profit on phone calls, but the state prisons are an even bigger ripoff.

    not to count the profit they make off of overpriced food items in commissary.

    no one is concerned too much about the prison population, so it's the perfect profiteering opportunity. i'm always hearing about the strength of corrections stock on wall st.

    witness the GOPranos...rethugs....Paul Wolfowitz: "If they fuck with me or Shaha, I have enough on them to fuck them too."

    by change the Be on Thu Apr 14, 2011 at 11:57:10 AM PDT

    •  prison profiteering possibilities (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hopeful human, appalachia

      ...something to make a venture capitalist chomp at the bit.

      I wonder if 100 years ago any imagined people would be looking to prisons as profit opportunities.

      And all I can do is shake my head at what that says about the kind of society I live in.

      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Thu Apr 14, 2011 at 12:28:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Prisons are a profit center (0+ / 0-)

    Jobs in rural areas; the prisoners are counted in the US Census as inhabitants of the county where the jail is, so that county gets more aid from the state and federal government and also more representatives in the statehouse.
    Colleges are not such great employers; college students tend to vote like crazy liberals, and everyone knows that education just makes people elitists.
    So prisons are a better investment, as the state of California is demonstrating.
    And the War on Drugs is the only way to keep America safe./snark

    Conservation is green energy

    by peggy on Tue Apr 19, 2011 at 05:41:05 PM PDT

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