How To Accept Phone Calls From Jail – Phone banks for inmate use inside the Carolina Detention Facility in Bowling Green, Virginia. File view of Getty Images via Saul Loeb/AFP.
But the ability to reach three or four minutes a day, a few days a week, came with a loss. Marshall spent $120 in just two weeks in July to call her son and other relatives and friends.
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“My son is just trying to get through it,” Marshall said a few weeks before he left. NBC News agreed not to release his name, age or conviction because he is still a juvenile. “She’s scared. She’s scared. It’s a traumatic experience. “Talking to people she knows and her family makes the experience less traumatic.”
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Many states make millions each year on commission phones that pay calls to families like the Marshalls. Domestic calling services are regulated by two major telecommunications companies, but the Federal Communications Commission says it does not have the authority to place price caps on intrastate calls, which account for most captive phone calls.
Some are running now. The US Rap. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and five other senators have introduced a bill called “fair and reasonable charges” for interstate and intrastate calls that would give the FCC the power to cap call rates.
“This is about regulating the FCC and saying you can’t have predatory pricing,” Duckworth said. “That’s the reason – predatory pricing.”
For Marshall and her son, who spent hours away in Washington state from January to July of this year, the phone calls helped reassure her that she was safe.
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“For her health, for her safety, and for her peace of mind as her mother, I need to hear from her,” Marshall said. “If I don’t hear from him, I’m worried.”
“There is no pet that people can call their mother,” she said. “They also affect family members.”
Two companies, Easy Technologies, headquartered in Carrollton, Texas, and Global Tel Link of Falls Church, Virginia, dominate the prison telecommunications industry and account for a large share of the release of phone calls made by the 1.5 million men and women incarcerated nationwide. .
A typical 15-minute jail phone call in Washington costs about $1.65, making it one of the more favorable states for such communications. At the other end of the spectrum, such a call in Kentucky costs about $5.70.
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Marshall has been serving the charges for 13 years, while her husband, without parole, was sentenced to more than six years in a Colorado prison for first-degree murder and aggravated motor vehicle theft.
But the phone bills of both her son and her husband had gone up and she had to choose between the two. He chose his son.
“It encourages my son’s humanity. It goes back to the meeting,” Marshall said. “Helps as a humanized and connected reentry plan to his family.”
An inmate talks on the phone at California’s San Quentin State Prison. Lucy Nicholson / Reuters file
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Many people in prison are aware of the high costs associated with staying connected with loved ones, said Spencer Oberg, who was incarcerated from 2011 to 2018 and is now the CEO of Uncarcerated Productions, which aims to change negative attitudes toward inmates. Ex-prisoners. prisoners
Because of this awareness, he said, many incarcerated people discourage their family members from putting money into their phone accounts because they don’t want to be a financial burden.
“I can’t even count how many people I know personally through my opinion that either their family members couldn’t afford to put money on their phones to stay in touch, or they didn’t want to put on their burden while they were in prison. . family,” Oberg said.
The FCC tried to introduce new boxes for interstate calls in 2013. The following year it attempted to establish another cap to regulate intrastate calls.
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But under the Trump administration and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the agency dropped its argument that “the Commission has the authority to cap interstate rates for calling services,” in a letter to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The Human Rights Defense Center and other inmate rights advocates argue that the FCC’s decision helped inmate services because it allowed them to continue to receive high ratings.
They also said the council considered a conflict of interest because one of Pai’s clients at Jenner & Block, where he worked before becoming president, was Easy Technologies.
“The D.C. Circuit ruled that the FCC no longer has the authority to regulate the rates of interstate calls from prisons,” an FCC spokesman said in a statement in July.
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The FCC’s decision led to current interstate call rates and fee caps set in 2013 on the amount providers can charge. Current cost of interstate calls is 21 cents per minute for debit or prepaid calls and 25 cents per minute for collect calls. Additionally, providers may charge a $3 fee for automated payments, $5.95 for speaking with a live agent, and $2 for paper bills and statements.
In the absence of regulation on intrastate calls, states can contract with prison telecommunications companies and set their own prices. In these contracting states, they can earn a commission on the gross revenue of the conference calling service called within the state.
An inmate uses a cell phone at California’s San Quentin State Prison. Bloomberg via Getty Images.
Washington state collected $3.8 million in commissions in 2017, or 56 percent of TechLink’s global interstate revenue that year. The contract remains in effect.
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92 percent of prison phones are interstate, allowing states to provide millions of phones for greater competition.
“Our call-to-action policies are based on contracts with individual states and counties, and contract details are typically determined through competitive public bidding RFPs,” Easy Technologies said in a statement outlining the proposal’s objectives. “Most state and county commissions include a portion of that RFP that accounts for 90 percent of the overall call rate.”
“Each jurisdiction determines how they use the revenue from the commission, but many use it to support additional services for incarcerated individuals, including enrollment workshops and educational courses.”
Since not all states accept commissions, each contracts with a prison telecommunications company, limiting inmates and their families to the same service. Critics say the lack of consumer choice creates monopolies in each state, allowing companies to charge whatever they want.
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“The end consumer of this service, the inmate, has no choice but to consume,” said David Fathy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. They can’t say, ‘Wow, these phone calls are in this. Jail is too expensive, they can travel.”
Bruce Reilly, deputy director of VOTE, a nonprofit organization run by formerly incarcerated people and their families that works to help people affected by the criminal justice system, was incarcerated in Rhode Island from 1993 to 2005.
“No one else manages my grocery shopping. No one else decides which cell phone provider I use or Roku or HBO,” Reilly said. “My choice is the user. Here, you are imprisoned, and someone else is working for you.”
Paul Wright, director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of Prison Legal News, said the system gives prisoners no choice.
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“They don’t talk to their families,” said Wright, who was incarcerated in Washington from 1987 to 2003.
David Moore makes phone calls that are his life. He was 20 when he was sentenced to 18 years in prison for assault, speeding and other convictions.
Their son, now 10, was born when he began serving time, but during phone calls and prison visits, Moore was asked to co-parent his son.
“There was a time when I had to buy my personal hygiene products – deodorant, toothbrush, soap, food – only to have my son complain,” she said.
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Studies show that connection with loved ones and outsiders is crucial for a prisoner’s success in society after release. Prisoners who had family support while incarcerated were less likely to remain incarcerated after reintegration into their communities.
“When people come out, they’re going to live in your town,” Reilly said. “The more connectivity, the more networks, the more opportunity, the more loving people, the better people they are.”
The situation may change gradually. Connecticut Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, introduced a bill in the state Legislature this year that would make phone calls to inmates free. Although the bill may be dead when the legislative session ends, he said he hopes it will be brought up again in the spring.
If approved, Connecticut would be the first state to offer free calls, but its Department of Corrections would lose about $350,000.
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