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FAQs: Prison Phone Rates

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Q: Why should we lower the rates? If people in prison don’t want expensive calls, they should not break the law.

A: People in prison do not pay for the collect calls. That burden falls to the loved ones who have not been convicted of committing a crime. The rates amount to an unfair, backdoor tax on these families.

Q: The commission the state receives is being used to benefit people in prison. Isn’t this an important consideration?

A: We are not challenging how the commissions are spent. But the high rates for prison phone calls are being paid by the families of incarcerated people, who are already doing what they can to help their loved ones become law-abiding citizens. The high cost of prison phone calls hinders these efforts. Studies indicate that incarcerated individuals with a social support system do better when released from prison. Telephone contact will help to sustain those relationships and improve public safety.

Q: Would the prison system have to invest in expensive hardware and/or software to offer calling options other than collect calling? What about time limitations, monitoring and number restrictions?

A: Telephone service providers routinely install the security systems necessary to manage the system. These systems are capable of monitoring nearly every type of call.

Q: Has any other prison system reformed its prison phone service?

A: Yes. Several states--including Nebraska, Missouri and New York--have reduced or eliminated commissions and have passed the savings along to families and friends of those incarcerated.

Q: Services are provided under a long-term contract. What can be done before a contract expires?

A: We have yet to see a contract that has no provision for amendment. In fact, we know that telephone service contracts have been amended prior to their expiration. In 1999, the state of New Hampshire negotiated a change to the contract to reduce the cost of prisoner-initiated calls. In 2007, New York Governor Spitzer eliminated the commissions and reduced the rates by 50% before the contract had expired.

Q: Don’t people in prison use telephones to commit more crimes?

A: Sophisticated monitoring systems enable prison staff to determine how many calls each person makes, which numbers are being called, and what the call patterns are. Further, people in prison are limited to a short list of pre-approved numbers they can call.

Q: Can’t people in prison and their families write letters if they don’t like the phone rates?

A: Written communication is not a substitute for someone’s voice. This is especially true when children are involved. Furthermore, three quarters of those incarcerated in New York State do not have a high school diploma, which can make it difficult to write.

Q: If people in prison were not restricted to collect calls, wouldn’t the public subsidize the cost of the calls?

A: Incarcerated men and women and their loved ones are not objecting to paying fair market value for calls. They recognize the need for security features, and are willing to pay a reasonable fee for those features.