I’ve written about this issue before, but this NY Times piece made me think it is worthy of additional coverage. I can’t agree more that prison phone systems are a huge burden to prisoners and their families. I understand there is a cost involved in operating these systems, monitoring the calls and paying for equipment. But it just seems the cost to the prisoner and family is exorbitant. With VOIP technology and other innovations, making calls is cheaper than ever. And monitoring these calls should be getting simpler and more efficient as well as technology improves.
In my thinking, and without full knowledge, a fair price would be around five cents per minute with no connection fees. This would seem to be reasonable for the inmates and provide a profit for the providers. In the Federal system, if you don’t have a local number it will cost you 26 cents per minute. With 300 minutes, this comes to $78 per month. When the average pay for an inmate is about $20 month, you can see how much of a burden this can be. in county jails it is even more burdensome, costing as much as $1.50/minute plus a $2.00 connection fee.
So for now, if you are preparing to enter prison, I strongly suggest getting a local number via a cell phone provider if this is possible as it will save you thousands of dollars over the course of your sentence. And this is legal, at least in the Federal system. You just can’t legally use a Vonage-type service to set up a local call. Until the laws are changes, this is the best we can do to reduce the burden on our families.