In the United States, the prison telecom industry is charging families of inmates excessive rates for phone and video calls. Every day, there are families of incarcerated people that struggle to connect with their loved ones behind bars because of unjustly high phone call rates. In-state phone calls can cost a dollar a minute or more.
In 2015, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights published a study that found that one in three families with an incarcerated family member go into debt because of prison phone calls. There are also many families who cannot sustain the costs of phone calls and as such, fall out of contact with their loved one in prison. Inmates who have families who can’t afford to speak with them will likely miss out on the positive effects that communication with loved ones provides.
A 2014 study of women in prison found that those who had any phone contact with a family member were less likely to be reincarcerated within five years of their release. Another survey that was taken in 2020 found that incarcerated parents improved parent-child relationships when they had weekly phone calls with their children. Both of these studies demonstrate why keeping in contact with loved ones while in prison is so vital, and why boundaries to that communication is so harmful.
Currently, the prison telecom industry is mostly privatized and worth 1.4 billion dollars. While this situation is certainly disturbing, there is hope that the prison telecom industry will not always continue to place such a burden on incarcerated individuals and their loves ones. Ameelio is a new app that is offering free video conferencing technology to incarcerated people and their families.
Ameelio is aiding in the circumvention of the prison telecom industry. Uzoma Orchingwa, the co-creator of Ameelio, stated “my idea was, rather than trying to negotiate and plead with these for-profit companies to reduce the cost of their calls, why don’t we just build an alternative that’s completely free?”
In other positive news, NBA coach and former player Caron Butler has joined the prison phone justice movement, a movement pushing to make prison and jail communication free. Butler was recently featured in a PSA to raise awareness about the prison telecom industry and its harmful effects. Butler stated “As someone who has been on both ends of these calls, I know their importance. Hearing a familiar voice — a loving voice — when you’re at your lowest can change the trajectory of not just your day, but your life.”
Butler partnered with the non-profit advocacy group, Worth Rises, which is working to end the exploitation of the prison industry. You can learn more about Worth Rises and the prison phone justice movement at worthrises.org.
Image Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo
Editor: Lindsey Neri
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