We at PRISON CALL DEALS enjoy reading publications about prison and related issues – we like to keep up with interesting stories, and a range of opinions.
One of our favorite publications is Vice News. A few days ago they ran a great story about the importance of communication for reentry and reducing recidivism, or reoffence, and how lowering the outrageous prison phone rates can help significantly.
The article features the story of Grant Marr, who was just a 14 year old kid in 2004, when his mother was convicted for embezzlement and sentenced to 20 years in prison. For 4 years, until he went to college, Marr couldn’t afford to set up an account with the prison telecommunications company Global Tel Link (GTL), to speak with his mom.
Then we he finally was able to afford setting up an account, the huge expense of the phone bills was added to the already intensely emotional and stressful situation of this kid. And not just the bill, but also the dropped calls, large required prepayments, and the complicated process [ring a bell anyone?]
“I was just a teenager trying to talk to his mom for a few minutes, and it seemed like I was the one being punished,” Marr said. “As if I wasn’t going through enough already.”
“The thing is, if you cant keep in touch, if you can’t keep on top of the little things — what’s happening in the business, what homework is getting done, whose teeth are getting worked on — then you’ll never fit back in again,” said Gray.
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) said that the FCC ruling last year is a great step ahead, but that these changes affect only about 15 percent of calls nationwide and do not cover in-state calls, which make up the bulk of costs in the multi-million dollar prison communications industry.
And no surprise – resistance to change has been primarily voiced by the prisons and telecommunications companies benefiting from the prevailing commissions-based model in 41 states, the HRDC associate director Alex Friedmann said.
A range of studies over the last 40 years have shown that inmates who maintain close contact with families while incarcerated have a better chance at successful parole and are less likely to return to prison.
Phone calls are a huge part of staying connected, especially for young kids who don’t have the capacity to read or write.
A 2011 Pew report found that across the nation on average, more than four in ten parolees recidivate within three years of their release and end up back behind bars.The FCC’s further proposed reforms, which include capping in-state calls, stamping out commissions to correctional facilities, and eliminating extra fees associated with things like opening, closing, and depositing money into accounts, could slow this continuum, if enacted.
HRDC’s Friedmann said the FCC now has the opportunity to “expand on the nine trend setter states,” that don’t accept commissions. The other prisons will find solutions to replace the “false revenue” amounted from what is essentially an “unfair tax on families,” he said.
Despite the long road ahead, the broader reforms and call caps, which would also affect jail phone services at the local and federal level, as well as places like immigration detention facilities, will not only financially benefit families, but also reduce the “human cost” of separation, Friedmann said.
“You basically warehouse people and keep them isolated in a box for one, 10, 20 years,” he said. “When we dump them back into society, we expect them to integrate and become functioning members again. That’s really difficult if you cut them off from their families.”
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