GAO to Study Price Gouging for Prison Phone Calls
The ACLU Blog of Rights notes a little-noticed feature of the recently-signed Prison Cell Phone Act:
The bill orders the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the rates that federal prisoners must pay to use ordinary prison phones — and to investigate less expensive alternatives.
The GAO should take a hard look at prison phone rates. The fact is that prisoners who want to stay in touch with their children, parents, and spouses are being gouged. With steep charges to initiate a call, and astronomical per-minute rates, it can cost a prisoner over $30 to make a half-hour call to a loved one. Those who qualify for a prison job often make less than 25 cents per hour — so paying for a brief call to a son or daughter may require more than 100 hours of labor.
Now, maybe some prisoners have family or friends who can scrape together $30 to put on their books. But $30 every week or month? That gets difficult or even prohibitive quick, especially for the low-income families most likely to have loved ones in prison. (At minimum wage, $30 works out to a little over four hours’ labor, which is better than 100 hours, but not nothing.)
And as the ACLU also points out, we all lose — except those of us who own stock in telephone companies — when we make it hard for prisoners to stay in touch with loved ones:
Studies have shown that prisoners who lose touch with their families while in prison become more difficult to manage while incarcerated, and more likely to commit crimes upon their release.
And who profits from this destructive system? Usually the answer is prisons and phone companies. The phone company, as the holder of an exclusive contract to provide phone service to a prison, jacks up rates without any fear of competition from other providers. And the prison, which doles out the monopoly, expects handsome compensation from the phone company in return.