Reduced Prison Phone Rates Pave the Road to Rehabilitation
Reduced Prison Phone Rates Pave the Road to Rehabilitation
Reduced Prison Phone Rates Pave the Road to Rehabilitation

    Get Involved Today

    This post was co-authored by Leticia Miranda of the Open Technology Initiative at New America Foundation.

    Chris Duran understands
    the value of a phone call. Duran pays roughly $2.80 for a 15-minute
    phone call to talk with her partner who is incarcerated at a detention
    center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That same call in Colorado would be
    $5.00, the difference is attributed to the unregulated prison phone rate
    system. Phone companies will often include high commissions to state
    prisons within contracts in exchange for being the exclusive service
    provider. The rate of these commissions inflates the cost of phone calls
    for families in states that have failed to regulate this practice.
    times expensive phone calls create a barrier between a prisoner and
    their family’s ability to stay connected and provide crucial support for
    loved ones. Luckily for Duran, she and her partner live in one of the
    eight reformed states that have ended the practice of  commissions .  New
    Mexico’s rates are relatively low;  prisoners are  charged roughly
    $.20 a minute

    to talk with loved ones.  “The only way that our family stays together
    and stands out is that she has someone to call on the outs who loves
    her,” said Duran in a
    recorded last
    year by the
    Media Literacy Project

    in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Really that’s the only way we have to stay
    in contact, through the PCS phone system.” For Duran’s partner and
    others behind bars, phone calls can mean the difference between
    maintaining relationships that make leading a healthy life outside of
    prison or falling into a cycle of moving in and out of prison.
    Research suggests that
    prisoners who maintain contact with family or friends fare better upon
    release than those who do not maintain contact. A 2005 report by the Anne
    E. Casey Foundation found that families are a person’s first and last
    resort for housing and support when released from prison.  The prison
    system considers a prisoner’s return home to their parents, children,
    partner or other family members to be the primary reentry plan upon
    release. It’s crucial that prisoners maintain connections with loved
    ones for support and to adequately prepare for reentry into their
    communities upon release. Whether or not a system ensures that prisoners
    are adequately prepared for reentry has an impact on whether or not
    they will return to the system.
    average U.S. recidivism rate lingers around 40 percent. According to
    a survey
    by Pew and the Associate of State Correctional Administrators, 43
    percent of released prisoners in 2004 were re-incarcerated within 3
    years for new offenses or parole violations. Between 1973 and 2009, the
    nation’s prison population grew by 705 percent, resulting in more than
    10 percent of adults behind bars.

    only do high incarceration and recidivism rates affect families,  they
    also affect taxpayers whose taxes fund a portion of state prison
    budgets, according to the Vera Institute of Justice . Annual state
    and federal spending on corrections exploded by 305 percent, or 52
    billion people, during the past two decades. During that same period,
    corrections spending doubled as a share of state funding and accounts
    for 1 in 14 general state fund dollars, according to the Pew Center on the States .

    astonishing trends incited various prison justice advocacy efforts and
    drew the attention of conservative lawmakers whose shrinking budgets
    have caused them to re-evaluate how correction dollars are spent. For
    example, South Carolina ’s prison
    population tripled over 25 years and was projected to grow by more than
    3,200 inmates by 2014. Conservative groups like Right on Crime , a
    partnership between the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Pat Nolan
    Prison Fellowship, worked
    on passing a prison reform package along with former Speaker of the
    House Newt Gingrich. The initiative ultimately gained the support of
    justice advocacy groups like the ACLU .

    reform advocates recognized that over half of the state’s population
    was incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. They found that the state could
    save $350 million by adjusting sentences for nonviolent offenses and
    targeting barriers prisoners face upon release. Within the past years,
    all 19 states that cut their imprisonment rates also experienced a
    decline in their crime rates, according to the Pew Center . It’s clear
    that a dollar invested in rehabilitation yields a greater return by
    keeping released prisoners out of the system and reducing the correction
    costs for states over time.

    also targeted this country’s high recidivism rate by passing the Second
    Chance Act in 2008. This piece of legislation authorizes government
    funds for nonprofits and agencies that would improve the conditions
    facing prisoners upon their release. These programs use resources for
    housing, employment, substance abuse treatment, continuing education and
    family programming. Reducing recidivism saves taxpayer dollars in the
    long run and reduces prison populations which would alleviate a prison
    system’s dependence on funds collected from commissions.

    policy reform that should be addressed by both states and the FCC is
    ensuring that prisoners can stay connected with the loved ones by
    keeping phone costs low. Other states can follow the lead of the eight
    reformed states and outlaw the practice of commissions. The FCC can also
    regulate interstate phone rates which would lower the costs for
    families, enabling them to stay better connected.  “Throughout the time I
    was in the system I had a really strong support system with my family,”
    said Duran. “The only way I could stay in contact with my family was
    through the phone.” She was released in 2002 and has been able to stay
    out of the detention system.