Do High Prison Phone Call Costs Make Phone Companies the Judge, Jury, and Executioner?

By Jeremy Williams


Do High Prison Phone Call Costs Make Phone Companies the Judge, Jury, and Executioner?


The 6th amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to a lawyer and a fair trial. However, many people who are sent to jail can’t afford to keep in contact with their legal counsel. This creates a system where the right to a fair trial is dependent on your finances. The protections promised under the Constitution are not be applicable to those who are not wealthy.


If  a family cannot afford to pay for a phone call from jail, they most likely cannot afford to bail an incarcerated family member out. As a result many are forced to sit in jail until their trial. However, when the trial comes, the defendant and the  lawyer aren’t properly prepared because they couldn’t afford to have necessary communication and planning. The chances of someone losing their trail are dramatically increased and now they are serving time for a crime they did not commit.


Public defenders are often criticized for having too many cases and not enough resources, but when you consider that the client can’t afford to talk to their lawyer, the idea of a fair trial becomes an unattainable dream.


Many inmates can’t turn to their families to advocate for them, because their family members can’t afford an increased phone bill or an extra expense.

A phone call from an inmate can run up to $17 for 15 minutes. That averages out to $1.13 a minute, and that’s if the inmate is being held close to their attorney and family. That isn’t the case for many families because most inmates are transferred out of their home area.


Does this mean all communication is stopped with your loved one because of they have been arrested?

Most people don’t have a choice in answering this question, because their financial situation has already predetermined this for them. This is especially the case if the breadwinner in the household is arrested and the financial burden is shifted to young adults or other family members who might not be capable of providing for an entire family. This forces working class families to choose between talking to a family member or keeping the lights on.


Last year, the Supreme Court repealed a regulation passed in 2015 that allowed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which regulates most methods of communication including phone calls, to cap the costs of phone calls from prison. Mignon Clyburn, the former commissioner for the FCC described the rising costs of these phone calls as a civil rights issue that is preventing 2.7 million children in America from communicating with an incarcerated parent. The costs of phone calls create an inequality between the wealthy and the poor. People arrested from both groups have a very different prison experience and the families that are affected, experience it differently as well.

The prison population stands at around 2.2 million people. The prison system is supposed to rehabilitate those 2.2 million people. Instead the government is using prisoners as pawns to profit off millions of hard working families who want to have contact with their loved ones.

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