price prisoners’ relatives must pay to call their loved ones
WE ALL know about the “one phone call” supposedly
allowed to arrestees. Most of us are less familiar with the price gouging by
prison phone service providers that renders the many calls inmates make over the
course of their time behind bars a huge burden. The Federal Communications
Commission was fighting in court to cap rates on those calls when they occur
within a single state — until February, when Chairman Ajit Pai decided to
drop the defense.
Even a believer in free-market efficiency can recognize that, in this case,
the market has failed. Because prisons receive commissions from the phone
companies they contract with, facilities strike deals with providers not to get
inmates the best service at the best rate, but to get themselves the biggest
kickback. Mr. Pai has
acknowledged as much in his discussion of the FCC’s less controversial
efforts to regulate rates on calls made between (not within) states, which the
agency will continue to defend. Yet the problem is the same inside state lines
as across them. And the FCC’s regulation of interstate rates has
prompted providers to push intrastate rates even higher.
That leaves people such as
Joanne Jones struggling to find room in their budgets to talk to loved ones
who have been shipped hundreds of miles away. Ms. Jones tallied in 2015 that she
had spent more than $1,000 over the past year on the line with her son in Texas.
In some states, a 15-minute phone call can cost as much as
$15 or $20 . It likely costs a company no more than 5 cents per minute to
transmit that call , and probably less, according to FCC filings submitted by
Lee G. Petro, the pro bono counsel for inmate advocates.
Phone companies say they need the money to offer their services securely and
still stay afloat. One of those companies, Securus Technologies, was
purchased for $640 million in 2013. This month, it was reportedly in talks
to sell for almost $1.5 billion — hardly the mark of a business just scraping
by. Prisons say they need the commissions for perks for inmates such as
educational programs . But, Mr. Petro’s
show, in many cases the cash is used for anything from guard duty to HVAC
repair, or goes to
general funds instead. Besides, regardless of where the money ends up, it
should not come out of the pockets of prisoners’ families.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard
the rate-cap case in February, even with the FCC refusing to defend its own
Mr. Pai is right that the agency stands on shakier legal ground regulating
intrastate rates than interstate ones . The court could still decide that the
FCC can limit costs on both, in which case the agency should move quickly to
enforce the proper price point. If the court denies the FCC that ability, it
will be up to states to determine fairer regimes. But someone must do something:
Inmates and their relatives literally cannot afford the alternative.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
Canada too engages in an almost identical extortion of money from relatives
of those incarcerated.
Bear in mind this extraordinary callous punishment is done with the full
knowledge of the Federal and provincial governments who make a fortune out of
this blatant fraud and extortion.
A local call is charged as "a collect call", around $1.50 with up to
$2:00 a minute for what they call "long distance", thats right, ancient old CRTC
rates for long distance that existed after the second world war are still used
to bill those making "collect calls" that almost noone still makes except for
prisoners, and most of those have not been found guilty of a crime.
Many are innocent and its just another way of isolation, cruel and unusual
punishment especially to those innocent of anything who are locked up in
concrete boxes 24 hours a day without exercise of any note or educational
activities, or counselling and generally, without the medications they need.
In Ontario, its some of the worst jails in the western world, a minority of
guards engage in terrorization and abuse of prisoners. There is no point
in naming the institutions in Ontario. Just assume that every "correctional
institution" is has their share of extreme abuse.
At the end of the day its the Provincial Minister who holds the
responsibility and we can assume that the new Conservative minister will not
raise a little finger and that things will get worse for Ontario Justice rather
The conservatives count of the vote from the worst abusers, and turn a blind
eye to the enormous costs of turning that blind eye.
Examples, it can cost $400,000 to incarcerate a single prisoner who may be
there because the Ontario Government has a a policy, "life time bans on legal
aid" that are issued at the drop of a hat, upon secret information for which
there is no disclosure or accountability.
This is due to the apathetic attitude of Liberal, NDP and now Conservative
Ottawa Mens Centre