New report uncovers the cost of phone calls in over 2,000 locally-run jails across the U.S.

The movement for phone justice has won huge victories in state-run prisons, but people in jail pretrial are on the front lines of exploitation.

February 11, 2019

County and city jails frequently charge incarcerated people $1/minute or more for a phone call, far more than even the worst rates in state prisons, a new 50-state report finds. The Prison Policy Initiative report State of Phone Justice uncovers the cost of phone calls in over 2,000 jails nationwide, explaining why sheriffs sign lucrative phone contracts that prey on pretrial detainees.

“Jails have managed to escape the political pressure that forced many prisons to bring their rates down,” said co-author Peter Wagner. “We found that many jails are charging three, five or even 50 times as much as their state’s prisons would charge for the same phone call.” The report explains how:

  • Phone providers compete for jail contracts by offering sheriffs large portions of the revenue – and then charge exorbitant phone rates.
  • Providers exploit sheriffs’ lack of experience with telecommunications contracts to slip in hidden fees that fleece consumers.
  • State legislators, regulators and governors pay little attention to jails, even as they continue to lower the cost of calls home from state prisons.
U.S. map showing the highest jail phone rates in every state

“High phone rates impact everyone in jail, but those worst affected are people detained pretrial because they cannot afford bail,” co-author Alexi Jones said. “When someone has to organize their defense from jail, the cost of phone calls becomes extremely limiting, and that ultimately makes our justice system less fair.”

The report also includes:

  • A sortable table of the cost of phone calls in jails nationwide, as well as the provider each jail contracts with;
  • A table comparing the cost of prison phone calls in each state to the cost of jail phone calls;
  • Explanations of two specific profit-making tricks used by jail phone providers, which target the very poorest consumers at their moments of crisis (with explanatory comics by illustrator Kevin Pyle);
  • A timeline showing how the two largest phone providers, Securus and GTL, are locking facilities into perpetual contracts by buying up their competitors.

“If we’re going to tame the correctional phone market, we need sheriffs, state legislators, public utilities commissions and federal regulators to understand the significance of jail phone calls,” Wagner said.

2 responses:

  1. Joyce Stock says:

    Many people do not care how much it costs for a person in jail or prison to make a phone call. The person that makes the call from the jail or prison is usually not the one paying for that call. The call is usually being paid for by a family member that wants to hear the voice of their son, father, mother, sister, brother, etc. The phone call may be the only means of communication that is available. The jail or prison may be too far away for travel. The prisoner has committed some crime and is being punished but the family does not need to be punished at the same time when they are paying for the calls. Telephone calls from these institutions should be lowered, there is no reason for the high cost.

  2. richard says:

    I agree. I am the one paying to hear from my son. A county jail in texas in which he resides is costing me $14.25 every 15 minute call. My niece on the other hand who is incarcerated in Florida only cost me $2.61 for a 15 minute call. Please. If you read this article. Reach out the Prison Phone Justice at the website i listed above and talk to them. I did so today and I am sending them a copy of my phone statement from Securus. They are trying to fight to get phone rates lowered for prisoners and their families.

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