While the two of us were writing this blog post, we called each other twice. Our organizations—the ACLU and Brave New Foundation—paid for the calls via flat monthly payments to our respective phone companies. The rates are reasonable, and if they weren't our workplaces could switch to different companies, which keeps prices competitive. Pretty straightforward.
That's not how it works if you have a loved one in prison. To talk to that person, you have to go through a company like Global Tel*Link, the country's biggest provider of prison phone services and the first subject of our new video series, Prison Profiteers. Global Tel*Link charges exorbitant rates to prisoners' families, sometimes reaching as high as $17 for a 15-minute call. That same conversation might cost $2 outside of prison, or just be bundled into a monthly package. Imagine the low-income families who are most affected by the prison system having to set aside that much money for conversations with mom or dad.
Today, 2.7 million children have a parent behind bars. For these kids, losing a parent to incarceration can be as traumatic as losing a parent to death or divorce. Prisoners are often housed hundreds of miles from their families, making phone the only way to connect on a routine basis. Global Tel*Link's high rates allow the company to profiteer off this basic human need.
Steep prices also mean many prisoners won't be able to call home as often, and that's bad for public safety. Although we've heard the argument that prison should be a harsh place so people won't want to go back, these predatory prices are about making money, not being tough on crime. After all, prisoners who stay in touch with their families are actually less likely to reoffend and wind up back behind bars. Reducing access to this crucial lifeline is dumb on crime.
How can you stop Global Tel*Link's abuses? Sign our petition urging the Federal Communications Commission to cap in-state prison phone rates at a price families can afford.
Global Tel*Link is just one of the many powerful companies profiting off mass incarceration. With far too many people behind bars for far too long, there's a lot of money to be made. Our new series will profile one prison profiteer each week for the next month and a half, exposing six institutions total. Check back to see the rest and take more action at PrisonProfiteers.org.