The phone companies that provide service at state prisons and county jails are overcharging inmates and their families, who may end up spending more than $100 per week on phone calls alone, recent news reports indicate. Christine Duarte, a Fall River nurse whose husband is awaiting trial in jail, pays more than $450 per month to stay in touch with him. When they put out bids for these contracts, state and local jail officials must demand that inmate calls be charged at rates comparable to service elsewhere.
The phone service isn’t even consistent, as families report that dropped prison calls are a regular occurrence. That would be a tragic irony if not for the fact that companies impose a hefty surcharge to connect each new call in some jails — as much as $3 in Barnstable County. The fee structure gives the companies no reason to provide uninterrupted service.
Exorbitant rates can have broader consequences if they force families to stop talking to incarcerated relatives . Having a family member in jail is an economic burden to begin with; the phone charges exacerbate the problem. Meanwhile, many criminal justice experts believe maintaining connections between inmates and their families is crucial to discouraging recidivism. A 2011 report by a state commission, which included both sheriffs and prisoners’ advocates, concluded that high fees make it harder for prisoners to become productive members of society after their release.
For its part, the Plymouth County sheriff’s office has defended its phone charges, which generate revenue for the agency, as a way to alleviate the burden of increasing costs on taxpayers. But raising money in ways that inhibit prisoners’ rehabilitation is shortsighted at best.