Information about Inmate Telephone Call Charge Scams
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, “Telephone privileges are a supplemental means of maintaining community and family ties that will contribute to an inmate’s personal development.”
Contrary to this statement, inmates are practically at the mercy of the correctional institutions when it comes to making calls and especially paying for them. Many inmate telephone providers bid for the opportunity to provide services for institutions, and not for the lowest rates but for the highest commission. Some charge up to five times the rate of a normal call made outside prison walls. The high cost often falls on inmates’ families who can find it difficult to afford.
Commission rates can be as high as 65% of the total revenue, leading many facilities to permit only collect calls as they are the most expensive and therefore generate more commission. In addition to exorbitant call rates, inmates can be subject to many fees including:
- Set up fees for prepaid accounts
- Account recharge fees
- Credit card processing fees
- Expired funds
Three-way calls are not permitted as they can be used to make calls to blocked numbers such as those of witnesses or judges involved in their case. The equipment used to detect these three-way calls is sensitive to changes in the line or background noise. Some facilities have tampered with these detection systems so that genuine calls, falsely detected as three-way calls, were disconnected. The inmate must then call again to continue the conversation. Every time the inmate dials, a hefty call origination charge is levied, benefitting both the phone company and the correctional facility.
According to Public Staff, it’s been calculated that in one particular correctional facility and phone company, over $6.3 million has been paid in this way. With over 18,000 institutions in the US, there is much profit to be had. Seeing the earning potential, Texas changed its policy allowing inmates with no rule violations one call every three months. Maine’s DOC took the idea one step further and provided their own inmate telephone services, cutting out the middle man to increase profit. Meanwhile, the highest courts in the state ruled that the Public Utilities Commission has no jurisdiction to regulate the practice.
After much debate, “The Family Telephone Connection Protection Act of 2009” was submitted for legislation. It was created to guide the Federal Communications Commission to exert authority on behalf of consumers and intervene in the regulation of the prison telephone industry. The bill has gained the support of many and at the time of writing more than 80 people had signed the petition asking the President to control inmate phone call rates.
High rates charged for prison phone calls breaks family ties
Dr. B. Cayenne Bird
August 15, 2009
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