Many telecommunications issues are really complicated and only interesting to a handful of policy-oriented folks. But once in a while an issue arises that has easily understandable implications for all of society. High rates for inmate calling services (ICS) is one of these issues.
The way it usually works is that an incarcerated person make collect calls from detention facilities, and their family pays the bill. Unfortunately, some providers charge extremely high rates for these calls – a 15 minute phone call to a loved one costs an incarcerated person $5 in Connecticut. This means that just one hour per day spent on the phone with family, friends, and outside support can quickly add up to a significant expense for an incarcerated person and their family.
It’s easy to say expensive telephone calls are just one of the consequences of being sent to prison. But it’s not that simple. High calling rates from prison are a problem for everyone. Continued contact with family while in prison increases the odds that the incarcerated person will successfully transition back into society once released. Studies have shown that incarcerated peoples who lack family support are more likely to revert to criminal behavior. But the reality is that some families simply can’t afford to pay inflated charges for calls that their family member makes from prison.
Verizon has been a longstanding supporter of lowering unconscionably high calling rates from prisons and jails. Our prior experience in this market (we provided ICS until 2007) gives Verizon a historical perspective on how this one-of-a-kind market functions and where there may be opportunities for meaningful action. So today we announce our support for legislation under consideration in Hartford that recognizes the public interest in more affordable inmate calling rates.
To be clear, Verizon is not suggesting that there is anything wrong with commissions. We understand that Connecticut may use commissions to fund beneficial inmate services that may not otherwise receive funding. However, we don’t think inmates’ families should bear the brunt of all this by paying unreasonably high calling rates.
In the current environment, with in-person visits suspended indefinitely, an incarcerated person’s only connection with the outside world is by phone. A sentence to jail or prison should not include the additional punishment of being cut off from family, friends, legal assistance, and community resources. Connecticut lawmakers should move quickly on SB 972 to reduce the high calling rates.
David Lamendola is a Director for Verizon Government Affairs for New York and Connecticut.