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The Mothers Day Phone Rip-Off

This Mother's day, hundreds of thousands of kids won't be able to call their mothers, and if Mom calls them, those kids are going to have a hard time paying for the call if she calls them.

by Peter Wagner, May 9, 2014

This Mother’s day, hundreds of thousands of kids won’t be able to call their mothers, and if Mom calls them, those kids are going to have a hard time paying for the call if she calls them. Incarcerated mothers — and most incarcerated women are parents of children — can’t receive phone calls but instead need to do the calling.

Who calls who wouldn’t be important if incarcerated moms could choose between an unlimited long distance plan and free Skype like most people do. Instead, incarcerated mothers have to use the monopoly vendor selected by their prison or jail; and the prison or jail generally selects the company that offers the highest kickback commission from the call.

You can see where this is going. The calls are expensive. The “good” news is that the Federal Communications Commission recently capped the maximum rate that can be charged for an interstate call at 21 or 25cents a minute. (Yes, people in prison live in a world where they might be lucky to make 25cents an hour from their job in the prison and where they celebrate the federal government lowering the cost of a call from $1/minute to 25cents.) But about 80% of kids with incarcerated parents won’t benefit from those new price caps because most calls home from prison are in-state calls not subject to the new price caps.

We need to work together to ensure that this is the last Mothers Day where families need to choose between putting food on the table and telling Mom how much she is missed and loved.



Sourcing: The Bureau of Justice Statistics report Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children is a goldmine of information about incarcerated parents and their minor children in state and federal prison, including detail about frequency of visits and other contact, that most they lived together with their kids when they were arrested, etc. Regarding the use of “hundreds of thousands” in this post, the BJS report says that in 2007, there were 131,000 minor children who had a mother in state prison, 16,400 who had a mother in state prison. Not included in that study were jails, which are an important but often overlooked 30% of the mass incarceration pie.

Peter Wagner is Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)

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