The best things in life are free or so ‘they’ say. It’s a little hard to believe with the rising cost of everything from rent to child care. So, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill last week allowing anyone held in the city’s correctional facilities to make free telephone calls, we began to think ‘they’ might be onto something.
Free prison calling breaks down a huge barrier for families to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones. It makes a stressful situation a lot less stressful and we applaud this move by New York City.
Staying in touch is important
We talk a lot about the importance of staying in touch with incarcerated loved ones because it’s so much more than a phone call. It’s a lifeline. We don’t think anyone should have to choose between a phone call to a loved one and paying their bills.
Staying in touch with incarcerated loved ones is good for their mental and physical well-being. Also, friends and families on the “outside” need to know how their loved one is coping and managing life in prison.
Prison phone calls are expensive
Phone services in New York City are provided by Securus Technologies, which will continue to provide phone service in the city’s jails until the law goes into effect.
Securus and other prison phone service providers like Global Tel Link and CenturyLink operate in prisons and jails all over the country. These companies charge inmates and their families higher than average rates because they have little competition to drive down rates. Some say it’s a monopoly.
In New York City, Securus currently charges an initial fee of 50 cents, plus 5 cents per minute for calls within New York. Like other phone service providers, they charge fees to deposit funds as well. Friends and families often foot the bill for these calls by adding funds to an inmate’s account.
All of this adds up to more than $8 million each year in calls and fees for inmates and their families, according to Brooklyn Defender Services, a legal organization in New York City.
It was Brooklyn Defender Services that worked on behalf of the inmates and families to get the bill passed by the city council. The group estimates there are almost 10,000 people incarcerated in city jails in New York City.
Will other cities follow New York’s lead?
In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates calls from prisons, put limits on the cost of in-state phone calls. But, last year, the FCC made a decision to reverse the limits phone service companies can charge. That means the cost of a call can go up.
Some prisons and local governments also make money on inmate phone calls. Those costs are passed on to inmates and their families, which can drive up the costs even more. New York City will no longer collect fees from Securus with the passage of the new law.
According to Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit organization that supports human rights, other states have taken steps to make prison phone calls more affordable. Alabama has placed a cap on the rates for in-state calls. The state no longer allows prisons to make commissions on the phone calls. This means the rate is lower there. A 15 minutes call in Alabama has been lowered to approximately $3.75.
In Nebraska, Global Tel Link charges inmates and their families 19 cents, which is an extremely low rate.
Saving money on prison calling
There’s no way to predict what will happen with phone costs, but PrisonConnect will continue to look for ways to lower the cost of staying in touch with incarcerated loved ones.
PrisonConnect cannot control the high fees prison phone service providers charge, but we can help make it easier for you to connect with your loved one and give them the much needed “outside” contact.