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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.

 

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

  1. Kim

    February 6, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    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. Kim

    February 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    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. Kim

    February 6, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    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. Jl

    February 6, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    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. Jl

    February 6, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    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. don thomas

    February 6, 2013 at 1:39 pm

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

  7. SistaV

    February 6, 2013 at 11:55 am

    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. Kim Worthy

    February 6, 2013 at 11:45 am

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

  9. S. C.

    February 6, 2013 at 9:53 am

    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,

    • R. Parker

      February 6, 2013 at 10:33 am

      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. Mike Padgett

    December 2, 2012 at 10:17 am

    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!

  11. Denn

    December 2, 2012 at 3:18 am

    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 ……

  12. rachel

    December 1, 2012 at 9:51 am

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

    • David

      December 1, 2012 at 11:12 am

      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!

  13. Kim

    November 30, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    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.

  14. HiRoader2

    November 30, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    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..

  15. Maat

    November 30, 2012 at 10:24 am

    ‘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.