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Saturday, October 15, 2011
AMERICAN FRIENDS: Opposing points of view: Hike in prisoner phone rates will cut off many family ties
Opposing points of view: Hike in prisoner phone rates will cut off many family ties
By Natalie Holbrook and Pete Martel, American Friends Service Committee 12:54 AM, Oct. 13, 2011
Prisoners and their families should not have to pay excessive phone rates to fund security and create profit for a private company.
Numerous studies, as well as the experience of the American Friends Service Committee's Michigan Criminal Justice Program, demonstrate that people in prison who remain connected to their families and positive communities have the greatest chance of success when released. These individuals often develop the best insights, and most empathy for the people and communities they have harmed.
There are three ways prisoners can maintain relationships with loved ones: written correspondence, visits and telephone calls.
More than 9,000 prisoners are incarcerated in the Upper Peninsula. Since many incarcerated individuals are from Wayne, Genesee or Berrien counties, visitation is largely eliminated as an opportunity for connection for them.
In June, 1,673 people visited prisoners at Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit. Over that same period, only 122 visitors made the journey to Alger Correctional Facility in the U.P. Because of travel hardships, telephone calls are vitally important.
Until July 1, a 15-minute call home cost between $1.20 and $1.50. Under a new contract with Public Communication Services (PCS), those same calls will cost between $2.50 and $3.25.
AFSC has received many complaints from family members stating that they can no longer afford to accept calls from their incarcerated loved ones. Many prisoners already have difficulty paying for hygienic and minimal amenities out of their monthly earnings of $10 to $20. After easily spending their meager wages on soap, toothpaste, stamps, over-the-counter medications and other prisoner store items, there is barely enough money left for two 15-minute calls. Those calls, costing more than $6, account for more than half of some prisoner monthly wages.
Nearly 95% of the 43,000 people incarcerated in Michigan will return to our communities. By nearly doubling phone rates, the Department of Corrections and its new service provider, PCS, are making it more difficult for them to stay in contact with their loved ones.
The actual base rate of a call is about 3 cents per minute, or about 45 cents per call. All revenues exceeding that amount are divided between the MDOC and PCS on a 70/30 split, respectively. MDOC will use its portion to fund security expenses, and PCS will bank the remaining 30% as profit. It is money not directed to actual services.
If we want to develop safer communities and more secure prisons, we have to focus on the roots of violence. Community and family support, access to education, mentorship, conflict resolution and therapy are what we should focus on. MDOC should facilitate ways to help improve relationships among prisoners, their support networks and their children.
The connection between prisoners and their families -- sustained by reasonable phone rates -- is part of the solution to violence in our prisons and on our streets, and to the successful reintegration of returning citizens.
Natalie Holbrook is the director of the American Friends Service Committee's Michigan Criminal Justice Program. Pete Martel is a program associate and former MDOC prisoner.
Citizens for Prison Reform
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