What's Happening In Your World

Rev. Jesse Jackson Says that Jails are Financially Exploiting Families of the Incarcerated

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

This week in an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to the mass incarceration epidemic that is harming families all across America. Millions of children grow up in psychological turmoil because the head of household has been sent to prison for dozens of years, in many cases due to non-violent, drug-related offenses.  Not only does this process serve to create more criminals (which happens to many children who grow up with a missing and incarcerated parent), it also leads to corporations using the families of incarcerated Americans are a way to fuel their bottom lines.

One of these forms of exploitation that Rev. Jackson notes is the high cost of making a phone call in the Cook County Jail.

Tuesday is In Cook County jails, prisoners are charged as much as $15 a call to be in touch with their relatives. The exploitive rates can force families — already struggling with the burdens of having a loved one locked up — to choose between supporting their loved one or paying for heat or food. An Illinois study found that the price of phone calls from prison was one of the two most significant barriers to family contact during incarceration.

Since when should it ever cost anyone $15 to make a phone call? I make calls from my cell phone for pennies, and even I would have trouble paying such a high rate at my own income level. If most of us would struggle with this cost, why would we expect a poor family to be able to pay the price? Even  if you care nothing for the inmates themselves, should the children and relatives of this person be forced to give up nearly everything just to speak to the person they love?

Rev. Jackson gives insights into why he believes that inmates’ families are attacked with this horrible financial burden:  

 Why are the most captive and vulnerable being charged such brutal rates for a phone call? Because they can be. They have no choice in provider. The prison system cuts a deal with a telephone company that pays the state a “commission” — what the New York Times calls a “legalized kickback” — that ranges from 15 to 60 percent of the revenue. Thus, as a report by the Prison Policy Initiative details, state prison systems have no incentive to select the company with the lowest rates. Instead, the correctional departments gain the most by selecting the company that provides the highest commissions.

 The result makes prison-telephone use a cash cow for the phone companies — and a brutal exploitation of the families of prisoners who pay the charges. Not surprisingly, over the past few years, three corporations have come to monopolize the service of 90 percent of all incarcerated persons, making it even easier to control rates.

Rev.  Jackson continues to make a very good case regarding why we should reconsider these legalized kickbacks and see them for what they really are:  A serious form of economic corruption that leans on the tendency of our society to care nothing for poor, black and brown families.  The mentality for many is that if you are arrested for a crime, you deserve no legal rights or human rights, even for a petty offense.  We also seem to forget that people of color are arrested and incarcerated more regularly than whites, even when they commit the same crimes.  Also, in states like Illinois, patterns of police torture have been consistently unearthed, showing that many of the individuals in prison didn’t do anything at all.

Rev. Jackson states that such policies actually increase the rate of recidivism, making our society more dangerous for all of us:

These outrageous rates make it harder for prisoners and their families to stay in touch. Yet studies show that family contact and support is directly related to the success of a prisoner after release. As the Prison Policy Initiative reports, the 2012 Republican Party Platform endorses “family friendly policies . . . [to] reduce the rate of recidivism, thus reducing the enormous fiscal and social costs of incarceration.” The 2012 Democratic Party Platform also supports initiatives to reduce recidivism. A sensible step would be to lower prison telephone rates.

According to Rev.  Jackson, rates for prison phone calls vary throughout the nation.  In some states, the rates are as low as five cents per minute.  In others, they can be as high as $17 per minute.   What’s made abundantly clear is that there are ways to manage the expensive kickback corruption to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.  Torturing the families of inmates should not be part of the incarceration package in America.

Rep. Bobby Rush from Illinois and Rep. Henry Waxman from California are asking that the FCC act on this matter (I encourage you to consider supporting them).   It is also imperative that our nation revisit the devastating impact that the failed War on Drugs has had on our society.   America cannot succeed by incarcerating such a large percentage of the population for minor, non-violent crimes and then decimating the families of the convicted.  It’s not good policy and it is up to our political leadership to address the issue in a fair and ethical way.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Black American Money.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

 

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39 comments

  1. I recall when I could send a money order. Now its online with Jpay system charging according to what you send to your loved one. Then I called on a Saturday to see if they could a msg to my son. He said only if it is a death then I would have to speak to a pastor. It was not a death call. But he did say what I needed to get to my son could be done so by calling back on Monday to speak with his counselor and she would get it to him. WHen I did this, she told me they don’t give msgs to inmates. I am sick and tired of my son being called an inmate NUMBER 1, Number his case is at the supreme court for he is sitting on a charge HE DID NOT COMMIT, I had an attorney for him who claim the courts statead he could file his appeal electronically and teh courts stated they didn’t say this so now that is all said and done with, He refused 14 years ago (my son) to take a plea for 20 years because he told me he is not agreeing to anything HE DID NOT COMMIT, now I mean if I committed something and offered a damn plea I would take it but my son being hard core like his mamma refused it. I kinda wished he would because he and I would be back together in 6 years but he was sentenced to life for a crime he did not commit and then the system wants to know why we as blacks are so angry???I mean can I be a judge and rule a life sentence over thier child for crimes they did not commit? And when does e

  2. I recall when I could send a money order. Now its online with Jpay system charging according to what you send to your loved one. Then I called on a Saturday to see if they could a msg to my son. He said only if it is a death then I would have to speak to a pastor. It was not a death call. But he did say what I needed to get to my son could be done so by calling back on Monday to speak with his counselor and she would get it to him. WHen I did this, she told me they don’t give msgs to inmates. I am sick and tired of my son being called an inmate NUMBER 1, Number his case is at the supreme court for he is sitting on a charge HE DID NOT COMMIT, I had an attorney for him who claim the courts statead he could file his appeal electronically and teh courts stated they didn’t say this so now that is all said and done with, He refused 14 years ago (my son) to take a plea for 20 years because he told me he is not agreeing to anything HE DID NOT COMMIT, now I mean if I committed something and offered a damn plea I would take it but my son being hard core like his mamma refused it. I kinda wished he would because he and I would be back together in 6 years but he was sentenced to life for a crime he did not commit and then the system wants to know why we as blacks are so angry???I mean can I be a judge and rule a life sentence over thier child for crimes they did not commit? They can’t do the things that need to be done! Where all these mouths from so called leaders for situations as this? I bet if it was thier chidlren it would be more than just contraversey. THings like this PISS me off. Whitey want to know whe ae be so damn angry because of this bull shit! I pray to God that these so called leaders who call theselves leadedrs take Mr. harry Belefonte up on his speech at the NAACP because it was a word to them!

  3. I recall when I could send a money order. Now its online with Jpay system charging according to what you send to your loved one. Then I called on a Saturday to see if they could a msg to my son. He said only if it is a death then I would have to speak to a pastor. It was not a death call. But he did say what I needed to get to my son could be done so by calling back on Monday to speak with his counselor and she would get it to him. WHen I did this, she told me they don’t give msgs to inmates. I am sick and tired of my son being called an inmate NUMBER 1, Number his case is at the supreme court for he is sitting on a charge HE DID NOT COMMIT, I had an attorney for him who claim the courts statead he could file his appeal electronically and teh courts stated they didn’t say this so now that is all said and done with, He refused 14 years ago (my son) to take a plea for 20 years because he told me he is not agreeing to anything HE DID NOT COMMIT, now I mean if I committed something and offered a damn plea I would take it but my son being hard core like his mamma refused it. I kinda wished he would because he and I would be back together in 6 years but he was sentenced to life for a crime he did not commit and then the system wants to know why we as blacks are so angry???I mean can I be a judge and rule a life sentence over thier child for crimes they did not commit? And when does our leaders speak out, up, in or around on things like this? THEY DON”T. I pray to God they take Harry Belefonte up on His speech from the NAACP awards. because he was right? Where is the church (so called) and where are these MOUTHS? I bet if it was thier chidlren they would be speaking out, in amongst, etc. THEN!

  4. No one can address this problem but the BLACK communtity. A culture of prayer, empowerment , education & respect MUST be taught so we can get out of this mess we particate in all around this Country. Let’s take full responsibility for change. Change is needed& please stop blaming someone else .

  5. No one can address this problem but the BLACK communtity. A culture of prayer, empowerment , education & respect MUST be taught so we can get out of this mess we particate in all around this Country. Let’s take full responsibility for change.

  6. I wish President Obama would put this travisty on his list of reforms. Mr. pres, R U reading this?????

  7. Jails are costing the incarcerated and their families money. Having worked in a county jail in New Jersey, I know that phone calls, commissary, medication and doctor visits and even processing when admitted have a dollar amount. When the government started cutting costs a decade ago they passed the costs onto prisoners. They feed you barely adequate food but charge an arm and a leg for commissary. The funny thing is the company Aramark supplies jail meals (also food for schools, sporting arenas, etc)and then controls the commissary store. So they starve you on the one hand and over charge you on the other.

  8. It’s not only the phone calls but care package charges/commissary is too. It’s ridiculous.

  9. I agree…the evidence is clear and it is happening in all of the correctional institutions all over the United States…a continued burden to our people.

    For the people,

    • Not only that, I went to drop off some money for a family member in our county jail and they have installed an ATM machine. For every deposit you make they get $3.00.

  10. This is a ridiculous article, no one forces criminals to commit the crimes. Your so called "mass incarceration" has only one person(s) to blame, the people who committed the crimes that got them in prison. The only thing that needs to be addressed is to teach people basic morals, normal social skills, working for what you want in life, and respect of human life. An why does the state or federal government owe these people cheap calls to their family, they are the ones to blame for the separation from their families. Maybe focus on not blaming others for problems they themselves have created and take responsibility.

  11. Joanne NunyaBeeswax

    New York passed a law a few years ago that kickbacks are no longer allowed. The calls are now $1.65 for 30 minutes. My husband has been incarcerated 20 years. It was not uncommon for me in the past to have an $800 a month phone bill. All states need to so something about this. It's just the tip of the iceberg when you stand behind a loved one that's incarcerated.
    For those who forget that the incarcerated humans in this country are indeed just that – HUMAN – I would like you to think on this the next time you talk about "inmates, criminals, convicts, etc…". These humans have families and those who love them despite whatever they did. Look around you and wonder, because this is who we are….
    We take care of your children and grandchildren in nursery schools, we give them shots in the doctor's office, we are dental assistants, we are school teachers and Sunday school teachers, we stand behind you in the grocery store, we prepare your medicine in the drug store, we work in banks, we approve your loans, we service your insurance claims, we work for newspapers, TV stations and radio stations, we read your electric meters and water meters, we are your landlords, your neighbors, we take care of your elderly parents in nursing homes, we are nurses, lab technicians, X-ray technicians, we own beauty shops, flower shops, printing shops, we are welders, plumbers, tree trimmers, we work for the IRS, the State Dept., in the courthouse, schools, churches, drug stores and toy stores, we are legal secretaries, lawyers, school board members, we are bus drivers, we prepare meals for your kids in school, we are city council members, bank tellers, we process your checking account, your saving account, we work at your Social Security office, your insurance company, we take care of your IRA, stocks, bonds, we sell your kids bikes, school supplies, clothes, shoes, eyeglasses, we repair your cars, we are real estate agents, car dealers, college professors, psychologists, administrative assistants, safety engineers and ranchers. We work at Ralphs, Albert-sons, Trader Joe's, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, Macy's, Nordstrom and Saks 5th Avenue. We sell Avon and Tupperware. We are not all "on welfare", no matter what the government would like you to think.
    There are two million people in prison in America and twice that many on parole and probation. Add in mothers, fathers, children, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends and about sixteen million people are personally affected by the prison system in the United States.
    We are tired of letting ourselves feel humiliated or embarrassed because our loved one is in prison. WE did nothing wrong, and they are paying for their crime!
    We are tired of fearing the loss of our jobs or evictions from our housing should anyone find out we have a loved one in prison.
    We are tired of being made to feel inferior or unwelcome in churches, clubs, organizations or society in general simply because we refuse to abandon our loved ones.
    We are ready to unite, to come out of hiding and openly support each other and our loved ones. It's a new day, America and we're here to prove it!
    We are ready to speak out against the "they deserve what they get" attitude we hear you talk about in stores, theaters and restaurants.
    We number in the millions, we are everywhere, every state, county, city and town. We may even live next door to you.

    Sixteen million & counting. We are everywhere.

    Think about it.

  12. This is exactly what's wrong with privatization of the prison system. It is a rip off of both the Federal Government, the inmate, AND the family. Rev Jackson is spot on with his observation. The private owners of these prisons are among the rip off artists who hate the government, but love the government's money.

  13. Prettybbw Daniels

    Just another form of slavery..but hell is so real and most of them damn wicked who love their evil deeds will burn in it..and oh wat a lovely time it'd be..it's always a black and white thing..innocent or guilty..it's always wickedness behind it all..injustice stinks…and God smells it everyday..your ass can run,but you sure can't hide..more minorities should get into the justice system and politics..change some shyt around..wat other way is it ? We have to do more than just pray …some are waiting on God..but God is waiting on you…

  14. It's not the white man anymore;.
    12-1-12
    The death of the African American in America, extremely violent and pity thieves.

    This is just the beginning, and that is the most unfortunate situation specially in African American communities. We have finally cause problems that the rest of the American community will not tolerate with. The African American community is on their own. The crime rate in all major cities is exclusively caused by African Americans. Statistics indicate that the average African American male or female under the age of 30 is either unemployed on welfare or in jail. We are killing each other stealing from each other wholesale. The white and Hispanic community is no longer willing to trust or positively interact with African Americans for any type of opportunity's that may be available. We as a people are no longer trusted and not able to bla…me anyone, but ourselves for our own irresponsible actions.
    We are not taken the opportunities that are readily available, instead these opportunities are being taken by immigrants willing to work to make a better life for themselves.

    ["DAMN": we have become losers in our own country.]

    A message to all [PARENTS]. Take a look at your gangster and thug Children. By Sunday morning one of your children will not come home again , Unfortunately he or she will be Amongst an unnecessary statistic of street death And street violence.

    Again parents are you listening ; help your children while there alive, because once their dead or incarcerated from street violence your tears will be in vain.

  15. I wish some of you “black folks” that left these comments would hold others to the same standards that you hold Jesse Jackson to. Your life does not have to be perfect to speak up against injustices. Bill Clinton is FAR from perfect and most of you smile so hard you pre your pants a little everyone he’s mentioned!

  16. Ok I’m missing something … help me … these are convicted felons we are talking about ???? Murderers, drug dealers or poison peddlers, stick-up men, attempted murderers, home invaders, and so on…. hmmm I wonder how they came to be in jail… hmmmm fucked up parents, now they want to complain about the telephone bill to call these wild gang banging ass kids, or family member …Ok then non-violent crime prisoners … whats considered a non-violent crime ???lets do more to correct the system of incarceration and fuck the phones, they should have talked to them before they commited the crimes ……

  17. That is simply disgusting an adds to the reason Republicans want to help big business in the private world turn our entire country into a profit makes, for these thugs.

  18. And if an inmate has $ in his "commissary account" the prison takes money out for any medication the inmate has to take (i.e., for pressure or kidney problems) and the inmate won't ever "get better" because he cannot get to eat any of the foods the doctor has for his diet. They also take $30/monthly from inmates accounts for "room and board!" What in heaven's name is this crazy racketeering? Inmates families need help and direction to halt these criminal acts by those who run the prisons!

  19. David Jones, shut the hell up u aint foolin no onee u white troll

    • From the look of your picture who are you calling white? Not sure if you’re black or white..in the old days it was called passing!

      Next time get Boyce’s nuts out your mouth and then maybe I can understand what you’re trying to say.

      So before you call someone a white troll you might want to Sh_t the F_ck _P.

      All that is missing is U..you half breed mut!

  20. I am blessed if I can hear from mine once every 3-4 months. OH but now its a real eye opener huh???? But when we the majority been strugglin with these issues telling them about this it jus went in one ear n out the other right? Give your leaders a standing ovation……Finally after decades of struggles they finally coming around.

  21. Guy goes to the doctor and says “Doctor it hurts when I do this”.. The doctor “Well stop doing that”… It’s “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.., Police precincts have become hunting lodges., The traps are simple.. A Chicago boys H.S. graduated 100 young men onto college., That’s farming,.. gardening,weeding, cultivation , harvesting..

  22. this needs 2b addressed as well how they going to make all that money off tha inmates and there familys money by putting all americas inmates money in one bank and collecting all that intrest what gives them tha right 2 do that? on topic though I ain't calln nobody MASTER AND I REFUSE 2 SEE MY PEOPLE BAK N SLAVERY…..SMMFH.

  23. Mass incarceration has destroyed the black community. Our politicians need to address this issue.

    • This dude has no credibility … Next story , Michelle Alexander has a great book on this topic

    • He may not have what you refer to as credibility, but he is speaking the truth! And I don't care about his credibility anyway! He has championed a lot of civil endeavors and brought to light a lot of injustices. I believe his report and find it to be true because I have been charged ungodly prices for the privilege of just speaking with a loved one!!!

    • I agree with you Michael Wade. What he (Jesse Jackson) has done in his personal life, can't outshine what he does and continues to do in his public life. The cost of a phone call from jail, in the same town that one lives in, is a lot higher than the same phone call from residence to residence.

  24. Took them long enough to realize it be them collect calls he getting from his son

  25. Latrice Tee Wallace-Mccoy

    So right one big governmental game and slavery

  26. This is so true. Its ridiculous how much a call from jail costs. The profit margin has to be over 1000% per call.

  27. I have to agree with this!

  28. Damn Boyce Limbaugh, I cannot believe you're not blaming President Obama! You didn't even memtion his name in the commentary…is there a part 2 to this article to blame President Obama. This is not like you…

  29. ‘America cannot succeed by incarcerating such a large percentage of the population for minor, non-violent crimes and then decimating the families of the convicted.’
    Let us be clear–this is essentially the new and improved ‘slave system’ and this is what America has always done–found a systemic way to exploit, brutalize and criminalize people of color and in particular, black people. NOthing new. It’s business as usual. We need to erect some kind of underground railroad for those escaping this new plantation system. The system is unjust and racist at it’s core and also VERY PROFITABLE–again, the same old same old. These people never change objectives, simply tactics.

  30. First time in a long time he is speaking the truth…

  31. I agree with Rev Jackson on this one.

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