Friday, December 14, 2012

Good and Mad Reading for the Weekend

Though it has nothing to do with sentencing, we wanted to take this week's GnM space to highlight an issue that is, fortunately, gaining some visibility:  hiked-up (and we mean really hiked-up) collect call rates for prisoners.

It happens all over the country -- a collect call from a prison costs families and prisoners exorbitant amounts of money, and their only choice is to pay up -- or hang up.  This earlier column from The Chicago Tribune explains how this policy makes money for prisons but costs taxpayers public safety:
A 15-minute call from an inmate can cost nearly $20. That has nothing to do with any special technical or logistical difficulties of providing the service. It's purely a matter of what prison operators can get away with charging. Families either pay the high fees, which can total hundreds of dollars a month, or forego the chance to stay in touch. ...
Ending this kind of price gouging is not coddling inmates. It's consumer fairness. Corporations shouldn't profit from skyrocketing rates on a captive market -- one that includes 2.7 million children who have one or more parents in prison.
The problem hits minority and poor communities harder due to their higher rates of incarceration, the very people least likely to afford the predatory fees. Opponents argue that the profits cover higher costs of monitoring inmate calls and can offset the prison rehabilitation programs. But that is hardly the most enlightened social policy. Disconnect inmates from family and you undermine a key element of rehabilitation. You take away a powerful means of fighting recidivism. It means we all pay a higher price in the end to lock up the same people over and over.
If you'd like to get more involved, the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice is working to end the higher rates for prison phone calls, and faith groups like the United Church of Christ have been advocating for change.