Buddy, Can You Spare a Jackson? Prisoners Phone Home at a Price - Sparrow Law Firm

Even prisoners need a chance to call home, but thanks to jail officials’ heartless decisions, few of these prisoners may have had the opportunity to speak to their mothers on Mother’s Day this year. Inmates in North Carolina, whether jailed for misdemeanors or felonies, say that they are victims of price gouging. Phone carriers charge more than $1.25 per minute for local calls on Mother’s Day. The rate is more than double that for long-distance calls, according to corrections officials.

That’s why the Center for Media Justice launched a Mother’s Day of Action, designed to reveal the disconnect that can develop between inmates and their families because of phone access.

Although prison phone rates vary widely from state to state, almost all jurisdictions effectively limit inmates’ communication with their families by hiking up prices to untenable rates, according to a Washington, D.C., based expert. Existing communications monopolies benefit both government leaders and phone companies, but they leave the prisoners with few rights.

Some areas have pre-existing contracts between municipal governments and phone companies. In those parts of the country, a 15-minute call can cost as much as $20, according to advocates. Activists have been collecting stories this season about inmates who have been unable to contact their families, and the collection will be sent to the Federal Communications Commission when completed. The FCC has a say in the phone rates in prison, and yet the agency have failed to adequately provide for inmates, according to advocates.

The prison phone issue appears to unfairly target those who can least afford phone service. According to recent estimates, 40 percent of the nation’s inmates are African American, and 20 percent are Latino. Those populations are least likely to have access to consistent communication.

Source: Public News Service, “A Mother’s Day ‘Hangup’ For Prisoners? Report Details ‘Price-Gouging,’” Stephanie Carroll Carson, May 11, 2012