By Dr. Artika R. Tyner
In Minnesota, 15,000 children are losing contact with a mother or father in prison due to the extremely high cost of prison phone calls. The cost for one 15-minute collect phone call from a prison can cost over $17.
The high cost of these phone calls is not a product of the cost of service, but rather based upon the commissions received by prisons when they enter into service contracts with phone service providers. The Community Justice Project at the University of St. Thomas School of Law along with many Prison Phone Justice Supporters are organizing to ban these commissions and cap the cost of prison phone calls.
Prison phone reform can lead to many benefits in Minnesota. Affordable prison phone calls strengthen familial bonds, reduce recidivism, and support equal access to justice. Because many prisoners are incarcerated an average of 100 miles from their home, phone calls are often the only feasible means for families to communicate.
For many families, the high cost of collect phone calls results in choosing between accepting the call and paying their living expenses for food and shelter. With over 15,000 children in Minnesota having an incarcerated parent, they are often the silent victims of this injustice. Studies have shown these children are more likely to struggle in school and become socially withdrawn.
Furthermore, studies show that prisoners maintaining routine contact with family and close friends while incarcerated decreases recidivism and improves one’s ability to reintegrate into the community. The high rate of recidivism in Minnesota also has significant economic implications.
According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the average annual cost per inmate is $41,364. By reducing the number of people who re-offend, the state can reallocate these valuable resources to address crime prevention and intervention strategies. Moreover, the high cost of prison phone calls serves as a barrier for lawyers to remain in contact with their clients. This directly limits an attorney’s ability to provide effective representation.
You can help reduce the cost of prison phone calls and the burden on these families. Effective February 11, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered a cap on long distance phone calls between states, but that does not affect calls within Minnesota. Thirteen other states have already undergone reform of their intrastate calls. At this time, the Minnesota Department of Correction (DOC) is in the process of rebidding or renewing its prison phone contract. It is time for a change.
Promote change by requesting the DOC to guarantee the new prison phone contract is based on the lowest cost of service and eliminate commissions. Join the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice in advocating for strong families and safe communities. Urge Commissioner Tom Roy of the DOC to ban the commissions and base the contract on the lowest overall calling cost today.
Now is the time to contact Commissioner Tom Roy by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or sending a letter to Minnesota Department of Corrections, 1450 Energy Park Drive, Suite 200, St. Paul, MN 55108, calling 651-361-7226, or signing the online petition at http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/6220/c/1313/p/dia/action3/common/public/index.sjs?action_KEY=16492.
Dr. Artika R. Tyner is a member of the Clinical Law Faculty in the University of St. Thomas Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services, Community Justice Project (CJP) Legal Clinic. She welcomes responses at email@example.com.