The classic board game MONOPOLY is an American classic. It’s a game of strategy, deception, and control where a single winner flourishes while depriving and bankrupting other players. What if I told you that it wasn’t just a game? That if you or your loved one has ever been incarcerated, you have tacitly played a losing game on a state or federal board? Would you believe it?
NBC News, through reporter Lindsey Pipia, recently published an article uncovering the monopolistic and predatory pricing of prison phone calls, its impact on the public, and the unquestionable need for change. The article brings to light how families struggle to stay in touch with their incarcerated members as the costs of that vital communication compound quickly. It exposes issues with Federal Communications Committee’s “lack of authority to set price caps on intrastate calls”.
One of two prison telecommunications giants, Securus Technologies, which serves over 3,400 correctional facilities nationwide, shifts accountability onto the individual states and counties, stating that “call rates are based on contracts… dictated by competitive bid… which include commissions that can account for 90% of the overall cost.” These are rates that have extremes, In the Washington prison system, a twenty minute phone call cost $2.65, and in 2017, the state collected $3.8 million in commission. That is $3.8 million dollars taken out of our communities, at the expense of mothers, fathers, siblings, and in some cases, children of the incarcerated. There is no choice; there is only one vendor, one extremely high cost, and one unbearable reality if you can’t afford it.
As a previous PSF awardee, I had the privilege of being nominated by the Prison Scholar Fund to talk to Ms. Pipia over the phone. It was my pleasure to share with her the perspective of an incarcerated parent and the role predatory pricing of prison phone calls has played on my ability to foster a healthy relationship with my son. My son is the most important person in the entire world. Although I am accountable for making a poor decision, prior to his conception, that resulted in an eighteen year prison sentence, that accountability does not negate my responsibility to be a loving, nurturing father. Its my duty to alleviate the adverse effects of incarceration by maintaining consistent contact, providing any measure of possible support, and ensuring without doubt that he knows he has a dad that loves him unconditionally. Studies have shown that parental incarceration substantially increases a child’s likelihood of delinquent behavior and generational imprisonment. Its through cultivating strong, supportive bonds with them that incarcerated parents can prevent our at-risk children from becoming another statistic. It’s heartbreaking that our current prison telecommunications system places more value on monetary gains than on the welfare of humanity, placing our children’s future at a direct disadvantage. The prison telecommunications industry has forced the American populace to be a player in their monopolistic game, and their rule is clear: there’s no free parking.