The many ways that the prison industry profits off the people it incarcerates – from cushy prison guard union contracts to dubious private prisons – is a long list with many surprises.
The latest? Phonecalls:
According to Prison Legal News, the cost of making a long distance phone call from a prison in Oregon includes a $3.95 connection fee plus .69 cents a minute, costing $14.30 for a 15-minute call. Compare this with making a public call outside of prison which costs anywhere from 05 to 10 cents per minute for long distance calls on landlines, costing a maximum of $1.50 for a 15-minute call.
For many families with loved ones behind bars, the choice between accepting a collect call and putting food on the table is a real and painful decision. It may come as a surprise to many that the increased cost of these calls has nothing to do with the actual service that is being delivered. What is actually happening is that prisons have designed a business system that allows them to offset their operation costs onto the shoulders of innocent families and to reap a profit.
The state prison kickback rate varies, with Texas accepting a 40% commission rate for phone calls and charging up to $6.45 for a 15-minute call. That same phone call provided by the same company in Maryland yields a 60% commission rate and costs a family member $17.30.
Maybe the state thinks this is justified. After all, to house a prisoner – even a nonviolent one – costs upwards of $30,000 a year, sometimes more. You could basically pay people minimum wage just to stay our of prison and save money in the process. $15 bucks a call is just the state making up for lost revenue.
Of course, it would make more sense to reform our prison system and our drug laws so that fewer not-menaces-to-society ended up behind bars. But again, the powers-that-be and the many groups that stand to lose money from drug reform and prison reform will lobby hard to see the racket continue perpetually.
If you want to understand why America locks so many people up, just follow the money.
“These contracts are priced not only to unjustly enrich the telephone companies by charging much higher rates than those paid by the general public,” Prison Legal News reports, “but are further inflated to cover the commission payments, which suck over $152 million per year out of the pockets of prisoners’ families—who are the overwhelming recipients of prison phone calls.
Averaging a 42 percent kickback nationwide, this indicates that the phone market in state prison systems is worth more than an estimated $362 million annually in gross revenue.”