First we had Babs with her ‘Waah, poor people who behave like animals shouldn’t be fined!’, and now it’s Sadhbh Walshe’s turn with ‘Waah, prisoner’s families shouldn’t be charged to keep in touch with them!’…
When a person is sent to prison, one of the most obvious and important ways to ensure a successful re-entry to society upon release to is maintain and strengthen familial bonds during incarceration.
Presumably, that wasn’t the case for the Manson Family, though? And I don’t think the West’s benefited from their familial bond much, either…
Most families are willing and eager to stay connected with their loved ones. Unfortunately, however, there are many barriers in place to prevent them from doing so, not least of which are the prohibitively expensive and sometimes downright exploitative costs.
Hmmm… *reaches for ‘World’s Tiniest Violin*
One woman I spoke to (I’ll call her Jennifer) described the difficulty of staying in touch with her brother, who has spent the past 10 years in prison.
“After 10 years, my brother was finally transferred to a location where it’s only half a day’s drive (550 miles) to visit. One has to make an appointment up to three weeks in advance to be able to visit; the hotel rates in the area are double anywhere else; and the emotional and financial costs to get there are great because families are made to share the cost of punishment in very literal ways.”
Those costs being mostly travel to meet up with their family members, it seems:
Jennifer outlined some of those “very literal ways”, such as the $70-100 on gasoline per trip, the $90 per person for a hotel room, the $50-100 for food in the visiting room. Besides, she pays $40 to maintain a landline she wouldn’t otherwise have in order to be able to receive the one 3-5min collect call her brother is allotted each month, plus up to $20 for the cost of the call itself. That comes to around $400 for one five-hour visit and one five-minute phone call. Hardly what you’d call “meaningful contact”. But it is nonetheless necessary.
Now, call me hard-hearted if you will, but those costs are down to her brother, are they not? Not the intransigent state or the poor hard-pressed taxpayer.
And not the private sector, either:
As always, when an aching void exists in the marketplace, there will be some opportunists only too willing to exploit it. In this case, the opportunists are the phone companies, of course (usually GTL, Securus, and Century Link – previously called Embarq), but also state governments, which have been helping themselves to generous “kickbacks” at the expense of inmates’ families.
An exhaustive study carried out by Prison Legal News Magazine found that the vast majority of states use a commission system in which the phone company guarantees the contracting agency a percentage on every call. The average commission payment nationwide is 42% of the cost of the call, but in some states it can be as high as 60%.
That means that up to 60% of what families have to pay to receive a collect call from their imprisoned relative has nothing to do with the cost of the phone service.
Well, Babs, it is indeed a captive market. Literally.
But you know what? All you have to do to avoid these extra costs is not commit crimes!
*checks sympathy gauge* Well, whaddaya know! This thing’s on ’empty’.