The United States has more than 2.1 million of its citizens incarcerated, which is more than the populations of Belize, Fiji, Luxemburg, and the Maldives combined. This information is not a surprise, as the U.S. has been known for having a flawed prison system with concerningly high rates of recidivism. The higher the rate that an individual is likely to return to prison also means the higher chance of private prison industries financially benefiting from these individuals.
Private companies that work within prisons are also profiting off of the one of the most vulnerable populations within Connecticut. Connecticut is not excluded from the harsh reality of private corporation’s motives and financial gain –despite the lack of private prisons within the state.
Privatization within Connecticut’s prisons should be well-known information for all Connecticut residents. Some individuals may believe that private prisons and privatization within prisons is a more cost-effective approach that helps the U.S. government by taking on responsibilities that come with a correctional facility. These individuals do not recognize the moral and ethical concerns that these privatization practices present to not only Connecticut residents, but all U.S. citizens.
The country is economically benefiting from the growing number of individuals being incarcerated, broadly displaying the lack of concern for inmates and their families. This economic benefit is one of the many reasons that mass incarceration remains so problematic in the U.S. Some may think that supporting taxed phone calls and commissary fees is an easy way for the government to make money efficiently, but in reality this money is being ripped away from individuals who have had their rights stripped from them. This is not a representation of a state that cares about its residents, especially during the year 2020.
In March of 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Connecticut’s Department of Corrections worked with its contracted phone service provider to provide two free phone calls per week. Two free phone calls is insufficient for an individual who wishes to communicate with friends and family.
From March 2020 through August 2020 over a half million Connecticut residents filed for unemployment due to COVID-19. The majority of this population includes those of lower socioeconomic class and people of color, which also make up the majority of those incarcerated in Connecticut. Ultimately, families and loved ones of those incarcerated must struggle even more financially from COVID-19 and Connecticut’s refusal to accommodate the costs of phone calls.
In 2019, one inmate told the Hartford Courant that her family spent approximately $9,000 while housed in the York Correctional facility for six years. Now, imagine struggling families attempting to pay these phone fees during COVID-19, and not to mention an increase in the number of calls since visiting hours are now restricted due to the virus.
Families rely on phone communication now more than ever before. The state of Connecticut actually receives money from the private phone companies provided in the state’s prisons. About 68% of the phone companies’ profits are directly given to the state of Connecticut.
Now, imagine struggling families attempting to pay these phone fees during COVID-19, and not to mention an increase in the number of calls since visiting hours are now restricted due to the virus. Families rely on phone communication now more than ever before. The state of Connecticut stands to profit if inmates make more than two phone calls per week.
How can Connecticut prey upon their inmates and families for attempting to communicate with one another? As of 2020, Connecticut is the most expensive state for an inmate to place an outgoing phone call to a loved one. A single 15-minute phone call costs about $5 for the individual receiving the phone call, and this is a price that adds up quickly. How can a family be expected to catch up or simply communicate with a loved one during such a short amount of time for a high cost?
Cities such as New York City and San Francisco have stopped charging families for jail phone calls in general, so there is no excuse as to why any city within Connecticut cannot do the same even just during COVID-19.
In the 2019 legislative session, a bill introduced by the Judiciary Committee dismissed jail phone fees within Connecticut. Ultimately, this bill was not approved and was going to be re-introduced in the 2020 legislative session, but the bill died due to the shortened legislative session amid COVID-19. In order to accommodate incarcerated people and their families, especially during the pandemic, the next Judiciary Committee needs to prioritize this bill in the next legislative session.
Anna Titcomb is a senior at Trinity College from Pepperell, MA. She is majoring in Public Policy & Law, with double concentrations in Law & Society and Health Policy.