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Monday, January 3, 2022

2022: The year of the free phone call?

On Thanksgiving weekend Washington Post columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel lamented the fact that, during the holiday season, high prison and jail telephone rates would limit family time for those living behind bars. 

Said Ms. vanden Heuvel: “...many incarcerated people are charged steep fees to make phone calls to the outside world. On average, a 15-minute call costs $5.74, with some prisons charging a dollar or more per minute — not counting tacked-on hidden fees that can increase overall costs by up to 40 percent.” 

Michigan prison telephone calls cost .14 a minute. 

The Washington Post piece reported that the correctional telecom industry rakes in more than $1.4 billion annually from prisoner phone calls. And, that means, of course, that the cost is generally passed on to the families of incarcerated people — who are disproportionately low-income, and disproportionately people of color. 

While it was the holiday season that prompted the columnist to write about this topic, it has been relevant for over a year, due to the pandemic. The virus resulted in limited prison visits, which meant that phone calls were the only way many inmates were able to stay in touch with their families. 

The entire thrust of the column was that these telephone calls should be free! Said Columnist vanden Heuvel: “’s outrageous that a billion-dollar industry exists based on skimming profits from some of society’s most vulnerable people trying to meet one of our most fundamental needs: human connection.” 

She lists a lot of reasons why phone calls from jails and prisons should be free, not the least of which is the fact that incarcerated people who stay close with family members are less likely to reoffend. 

We’d like to propose that Michigan lawmakers consider this radical idea. We point out that, in 2019, New York became the first major U.S. city to make phone calls from jail free. And, in 2021, Connecticut became the first state to make all communication between inmates and their families free — including phone calls, video chats and emails! 

It’s time for Michigan to be a leader, not a follower, not a bystander. 

Let these profound words of Ms. vanden Heuvel resound, not only here in the HFP office, but through the halls of the State Capitol: 

Being convicted of a crime may deprive a person of their freedom — but it shouldn’t deprive someone of their humanity!

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