I need your help. I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to put the problem of mass incarceration — and the perverse incentives that fuel it — on the national agenda. Over the last 16 years, our campaigns have protected our democracy from the prison system and protected the poorest families in this country from the predatory prison telephone industry. Our reports untangle the statistics and recruit new allies.

But now, more than ever, we need your help to put data & compassion into the conversation. Any gift you can make today be matched by other donors and go twice as far.

Thank you.
—Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

Help us stay one step ahead of the exploitative prison phone industry

by Peter Wagner, September 11, 2015

Three years ago today, the Prison Policy Initiative released our first report exposing the dirty prison and jail telephone industry that seeks to charge children of incarcerated parents $1 per minute for a simple phone call. Almost overnight, we caught the attention of the press and got more people talking.

illustration showing the Securus piggybank gaining money from family funds intended for food, rent and other billsThe Prison Policy Initiative operates on a shoestring budget, but, even for us, this first phones report was special. The author of The Price To Call Home: State-Sanctioned Monopolization In The Prison Phone Industry, Drew Kukorowski, volunteered his time to do the in-depth research that was required to uncover this previously hidden industry, and we managed to pull together the gifts of our individual donors to cover the rest.

The continued support of these donors then allowed us to dig deeper in a second report less than 8 months later, Please Deposit All of Your Money:
Kickbacks, Rates, and Hidden Fees in the Jail Phone Industry
. We exposed:

  • Industry contracts with local jails, which charge even more for calls than in prisons
  • The hidden fees that can double the cost of each call

And because these companies have shown great skill at exploiting loopholes to retain their monopoly profits, our work continues. In January, we exposed that many of these phone companies have expanded their services to video visitation, in which they ban in-person visits to spur demand for expensive video chats.

I’m thrilled to say that our research and advocacy are making a difference, and the Federal Communications Commission is set to protect all families of incarcerated people. These wins are also having huge side effects: the debate over phones is helping this country finally realize how our criminal justice policies often reach outside the prison walls to punish entire families and communities.

I’m expecting the FCC to issue a robust ruling, but this billion dollar industry is going to fight back. These companies are sneaky, and they’ll surely go running to the courts again. But, over the last three years, with the support of our donors, we’ve learned how to follow the money and uncover their dirtiest tricks.

Neither we, nor the 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent, would ever have gotten this far without a small group of individual donors. Now, we need to continue to stay one step ahead of this exploitative industry. Can you join our supporters and make a gift today?

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