A PUSH TO REIN IN THE HIGH COST OF INMATE CALLS
Because of the type of reporting I do, for over two decades, I have gotten occasional collect calls from prison and jail inmates.
With the exception of maybe the cost of using certain satillite phones, these are the most expensive phone calls in the world.
I can call China less expensively than the cost of accepting the average call from a California state prison.
And even with the already usurious per minute rates in place, the phone companies seem to find ever more devious ways to levy additional charges.
Take, for example, the experience I had last week when I wanted to be able accept a collect call on my cell phone while I was out of state in Montana.. The call was coming from inmate in the LA County Jail system whom I’d heard wanted to talk to me.
In order to accept the call, the Globel Tell Link operator cheerily informed me I had to prepay a minimum of $25 just to have the possibility of accepting a single call on my cell, no matter how short that call might end up being. (My landline is set up to accept collect calls on a normal basis, with a extra charges tacked on to my monthly phone bill for any collect calls I might receive. However, my cell phone isn’t. But since I was away from my home office, the cell was the only alternative if I wanted to accept this guy’s call.)
I explained to the operator that I only would be accepting a single call on a single occasion, and that it was unlikely to be long. And I wasn’t 100 percent sure, that the call in question would come through at all anyway. Plus I was already a Globel Tel Link customer on my home phone. Surely, I said, I could buy maybe $10 worth of prepaid minutes, instead of $25?
Nope, said the operator. It was $25 or nothing. She further informed me that if I failed to use up that $25 credit in, I think it was 90 days, the credit went dead and could no longer be used to cover calls at all. Globel Tel Link would simply keep the money.
Part of the problem is that, since each county or state contracts with a single phone company, there is no competition; it’s a take it or leave it situation for mothers, fathers, wives and husbands, sons and daughters hoping to keep in touch with their incarcerated family members, but for whom the cost of accepting calls quickly becomes prohibitive.
(Did I mention that the states and counties are getting multimillion dollar legal kick backs from the phone companies that have these big bucks contracts?)
Now, however, there is finally some real movement to change all that.
Sunday’s NY Times has an editorial calling for those changes in clear, no-nonsense terms.
Here’s a clip:
Members of Congress and civil rights groups are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to rein in telephone companies that, in many states, charge inmates spectacularly high rates that can force their families to choose between keeping in touch with a relative behind bars and, in some cases, putting food on the table.
The time is long past for the F.C.C. — which has been weighing this issue for nearly a decade — to break up what amount to monopolies and ensure that prisoners across the country have access to reasonably priced interstate telephone service.
The calls are expensive because they are placed through independent telephone companies that pay the state a “commission” — essentially a legalized kickback — that ranges from 15 percent to 60 percent either as a portion of revenue, a fixed upfront fee or a combination of both. According to a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative, a research group based in Massachusetts, depending on the size of the kickback, a 15-minute call can cost the family as little as $2.36 or as much as $17.
Prison officials and phone companies that defend the system of commissions say that extra charges are necessary to pay for the security screening required when inmates make calls. But this presents no problem in New York State, which banned the kickbacks several years ago and required its prison telephone vendor to provide service at the lowest possible cost to the inmates and their families…..
Read the rest. It’s ridiculous that these policies are still in place—punishing the families in our communities who can least afford it.
NEWT GINGRICH AND OTHER CONSERVATIVES URGE JERRY BROWN TO SIGN SB9, THE JUVIE LWOP BILL
As the clock ticks down on the bills that remain on Governor Brown’s desk, late-ish last week one piece of legislation got some welcome support from some unexpected sources when the San Diego Union Tribune ran an op ed by former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan, a former Republican leader of the California State Assembly, and president of Justice Fellowship, urging the governor to sign SB9, the bill that would allow the possibility of eventual parole after 25 years for some of those inmates who’ve been locked up for life for a crime committed when they were kids as young as 14 years old.
The governor has until the end of this month to sign—or not.
Here’s a clip from Newt and Pat’s excellent essay:
…Teenagers often don’t make very good decisions. Our laws take this into account in many ways: We don’t let young people drink until they are 21, and they can’t sign contracts, vote or serve on juries until they are 18.
But there is one area in which we ignore teens’ youth and impulsiveness: our criminal laws. Our laws often ignore the difference between adults and teens, and some youngsters are sentenced to life in prison without parole (LWOP). Despite urban legends to the contrary, this law has no exceptions: A teen sentenced to LWOP will die in prison as an old man or woman. No exceptions for good behavior, no exceptions period. No hope.
You might expect that these LWOP sentences are limited to the “worst of the worst,” but that is not the case. A young teen can be a bit player in a crime, e.g., act as a lookout while his buddies go in to steal beer from a convenience store. None of them is armed, and there is no plan for violence. Then it all goes haywire. The clerk pulls a gun, and one of the kids tries to grab it away. In the struggle that ensues, the gun goes off and the clerk dies.
Under California’s “felony murder” rule, every person involved in that crime, no matter how minor their role, is equally guilty of murder, even if they did not plan or expect a murder to occur. According to the fiction of our law, the lookout is as much to blame as the person who pulled the trigger. About 45 percent of the inmates serving LWOP for a teenage crime were not the person who caused the death. Yet they will die in prison of old age, with no chance for release.
But should these youngsters die in prison for something they did when they were so young? Wouldn’t it be better to re-evaluate them after serving a long stretch in prison and consider whether they have matured and improved themselves?
We are conservative Republicans, and we believe that some people are so dangerous that we must separate them from our communities. That is what prisons are for. But sometimes we overuse our institutions. California’s teen LWOP is an overuse of incarceration. It denies the reality that young people often change for the better. And it denies hope to those sentenced under it…..
Such common sense is refreshing. Let’s hope that the governor sides with facts rather than the fact-challenged diatribes of those lobbying against this bill that is a long time coming.
AND IN A RELATED STORY, MONTANA CONSERVATIVES WORK FOR THE END OF THE DEATH PENALTY
The Great Falls Tribune has the story. Here’s how it opens:
A conservative political group opposed to the death penalty is calling for an end to capital punishment in the wake of a recent court ruling that found the state’s method of execution unconstitutional.
“Conservatives dislike waste and inefficiency. That is why we should cast a critical eye when the state is involved with the business of executing people,” said former Republican state Sen. Roy Brown of Billings.
Brown is on the advisory committee of Montana Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.
“When it takes over 20 years and hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars for extra legal fees and court costs, it is obvious that the process is full of waste and inefficiency,” Brown said.
Brown worked across the aisle with Democrats in the state Senate in past legislative sessions to try to end the death penalty in Montana.