Phone Service in a Prison Environment

The High Cost of Phone Calls in Prisons Generates $1.4 Billion a Year, Disproportionately Driving Women and People of Color Into Debt (

It has been a while since I have tackled issues with the prison system in the US. Besides it being heavily skewed towards the color of a prisoner and the funding they possess to mount a defense; once convicted and imprisoned, the screwing over the prisoner increases. If they go to trial, the sentence is enhanced (the court does not like to work).

Once at the prison, a prisoner’s family usually attempts to maintain contact either by phone or by visits if they can afford to do either. Family contact is an important factor in maintaining some degree of sanity besides having funds to buy snacks, other items, a small TV with a transparent case, and access to books.

Typically, a prisoner is relocated a distance away from the last area of residence requiring a 2 to 4 hour trip. Long distance phone calls can be made using the prison’s negotiated commercial system which will charge by the minute. The prison negotiates the rate and will take a cut of the generated revenue. The economic beatings continue after sentencing and includes the family who must comply if they wish to maintain contact. Family contact is a vital part of reform.

And yes I have heard it, “if you do not wish to do the time, then do not do the crime.” The bloodsuckers come for their due. Just how bad is it?

Many law abiding citizens have no problem spending an ~$35,000 per year to house a prisoner of which a majority percentage are minority. Yet, they will against better schools in areas needing them, job training, lower cost or no cost healthcare, subsidizing housing and food, etc. which do not come close to the cost of prisons. The potential there is too spend money which will increase the productivity of citizens

In the end, they still pay. Except now it is for housing prisoners. What is key to rehabilitation is maintaining contact with family through phone calls, visitations, letters, etc. Most of the time, prison is not forever and there neds to e a pace and person one can turn too.

Prison phone contracts follow a “commission” model, where the phone service provider pays a commission (kickback) to the contracting government agency, such as a state prison system or county jail. The kickbacks inflate the costs of prison and jail phone calls, which are paid by the families of prisoners. Once in prison, it is all about milking the prisoner and the family which may come to visit them. 

The once per week 15 minute call a prisoner makes to his family costs $2.40 in Michigan which has negotiated rates and kickbacks from the the company. In the costly states of California and Illinois, the 15 minute call goes for $1.23 and $1.05. In backwards South Carolina, the 15 minute call goes for $.82.

Prison phone calls in Michigan at twice the rate of all three states is still not as bad as McConnell’s Kentucky which charges a family $5.70 for 15 minutes of conversation. Michigan recoups ~$10 million annually from prisoner phone calls. Kentucky does not have an obvious kickback in place.

Intrastate calls are unregulated as the result of the DC COA overruling laws allowing the FCC to regulate prison phone calls.

In 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s intrastate (in-state) rate caps and other reforms. Currently, interstate (long distance) prison and phone rates are capped at $.21/minute for debit and prepaid calls, and $.25/minute for collect calls. Intrastate prison and phones rates are currently unregulated by the FCC, resulting in extremely high rates at county jails.

“Rates and Kickbacks,” | Prison Phone Justice, Human Rights Defense Center

As taken from the Prison Phone Justice site, the latest action by the FCC has been to regulate further the costs of making a phone call by a prisoner to a list of approved contacts.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report and adopted order on rates for interstate inmate calling services (ICS), released May 24, 2021.

“When this rule takes effect and 90 days after its release, ICS interstate call rates will be capped at 12 cents per minute for prisons and 14 cents per minute for larger jails. Larger defined as those with an average daily population (ADP) of 1,000 or more.

For smaller jails, the cap remains where it was set in 2013 at 21 cents per minute. All of which ensures that prison phone providers like Securus and Global Tel*Link (GTL) will continue making obscene profits off the backs of prisoners and their families.”

Many who end of in prison are there because of an inadequate defense. Yes, lawyers are provided, Of ten times the defense is inadequate and if you fight back you have assured yourself of a harsher sentence. I do not recall what the actual number is anymore. For sure, it has not improved. Eighty-five to 90% of all cases are plea-bargained, The defendant stands in front of the judge who recites a litany of questions to which most do not understand the consequences of their yeses to them.

Done in the hopes of a lighter sentence. There are stories to be told. Maybe when I review prisons once again, I will tell a few.

Some references:

Rates and Kickbacks | Prison Phone Justice

The High Cost of Phone Calls in Prisons Generates $1.4 Billion a Year, Disproportionately Driving Women and People of Color Into Debt (

New FCC Boss Decides It’s Cool If Phone Monopolies Want To Rip Off Inmate Families | Techdirt