Phone Calls from Prison
In the digital age, the price to call countries continents away can be practically nothing, but the incarcerated can be hit with prices per minute up to $15. Where are the additional costs coming from?
MuckRock is trying to learn more about the national framework of phones in prison, but we’re getting hit with multiple public record fees. Help everyone learn more by contributing to our crowdfund and allowing us to publicly release information on how much sheriffs’ departments are making on inmates’ conversations.
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THE COST OF A CALL
In the digital age, the price to call countries continents away can be practically nothing, but the incarcerated can be hit with prices per minute up to $15. Where are the additional costs coming from? Most agree that to blame are the fees imposed by Inmate Calling Services (ICS) - for maintenance and for profit - and encouraged by prison administration, which often receives a cut of each phone cost. THE RIGHT TO A PHONE CALL
In most states, your ability to place phone calls is not guaranteed. It can be expensive to install and maintain a phone system, so private phone companies have filled the need by providing a plan with perks for the prisons themselves, too. Securus, the largest ICS provider in the nation, for example, will provide equipment, installation, and regular maintenance at no cost to the facility. To recoup these costs, they add fees to the costs paid by inmates to place the phone calls, and to make the deal appealing to administrators, they tack on further fees as a commission for the prison or jail itself.
The Federal Communications Commission tried to step in during the Obama administration to cap the costs of both interstate (from one state to another) and intrastate (within one state) prison phone calls. ICS providers challenged the intrastate regulations, based on the federal agency’s ability to place trade restrictions across state lines but not within them, and a court recently agreed. This means that monitoring and limiting the costs in-state phone calls will be left to state-specific regulatory agencies - if they take up the task.
The cuts received by jailers themselves are the most controversial elements of the current prison phone system. Administrators see the funds as a useful supplement to operating costs; the families of the incarcerated feel them as another they’re being gouged, almost irredeemably, by the justice system. The extent to which prisons are relying on this income remains to be fully examined.
MuckRock will be growing its understanding of the compounding costs of prison phone policy, regulation, and prices. But we need your help. Tell us your story and leave us your tips at email@example.com.
There are over 3,000 Sheriffs’ departments in the United States, and nearly a tenth of them have provided contracts to MuckRock in response to our nationwide survey of inmate prison phone agreements.
Of the 159 Georgia county Sheriffs’ Departments that received our request, 63 have completed it, 14 have claimed to have no responsive documents, and another 15 are requesting payment for the materials. (You can help us pay for these fees by contributing to the crowdfund on the project page.)
The Federal Communications Commission is currently considering a bid by Securus Technologies, one of the largest providers of prison phone services in the country, to further consolidate its hold on the inmate communications market by acquiring a competitor, Inmate Calling Solutions, which is currently owned by Keefe Group. The companies argue that a merger wouldn’t edge out competitors.