Virginia’s prisons charge too much for inmates’ calls

I am concerned about the inmate phone system in our commonwealth.

Under the current system, families of inmates are assessed a surcharge of $2.85 per call in addition to the usual collect call rates. One phone call, which is limited to 20 minutes, can easily cost between $10 and $20. If a mother wished to speak with each of her two daughters once a week, it could cost her family $160 each month, not including any conversations with her husband or parents!

At such rates, Virginia’s General Fund has received more than $6 million in revenue from some of our state’s most vulnerable families, and has effectively prohibited others from maintaining contact with their loved ones (more than 80 percent of our women in prison are mothers).

Studies have shown that children who maintain contact with their incarcerated parent are less likely to become incarcerated. With the epidemic of incarceration in our nation, changing the current inmate phone system is a way we can actively interrupt the generational cycle of those who enter prison.

Other states and our federal prisons have phone systems that are far more family-friendly. Perhaps a system akin to the federal inmate phone system could be implemented. Federal inmates purchase phone cards from the inmate canteen for three cents per minute. Equipment maintenance could be assessed to the inmate as a surcharge on the phone card.

With so many creative people in Virginia, surely there is a way to implement a socially just system.



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