12 June 05
Inmate phone calls generate multi-million dollar profits for the telephone service contractors at the expense of prisoners families and friends who are mostly members of the lower-income groups in society. Here, local calls cost from $2 upwards - at that rate, if the 2 million+ prison population average four calls per week then the contractors would reap approximately half a billion dollars per year. Adding long distance charges to that figure, I estimate that inmate phone calls are a half to one billion dollar a year industry.
The cost of long distance phone calls is particularly high. In 2002 I placed a call to my parents from the Towers Jail that cost $50 for 10 minutes. Using a conservative estimate, that my call cost the phone company 5 cents a minute, implies that the profit to the phone company was in excess of 10,000%! Before my parents disclosed the cost of the call after they had received the bill, I believed that there were laws against such corporate exploitation. Now I am starting to know better, and I recently read about a phone company scam that demonstrates how the companies and State leaders entangle the prison system in their web of corruption.
In California, Proposition 66 aiming to abolish the Three Strikes law, which would have freed thousands of non-violent criminals serving life for trivial crimes, was recently defeated by a slim margin. Arnold Schwartzenegger campaigned against Proposition 66 spooking the public into believing that 26,000 violent criminals would be prowling the streets if it were to be passed. And who was one of the biggest contributers to the opposition campaign? The founder of Broadcom Corporation, which owns MCI, which has the exclusive contract with the State of California, to monopolise prisoner phone calls.
Is the overriding objective of the mass incarceration of non violent offenders the provision of effortless rewards to the prison industry’s top brass and their contractor buddies? Should inmates be serving life sentences to help MCI make more money? How can the leaders of a country based on liberty and the proposition that all men are created equal, be allowing this to happen?
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Copyright © 2004-2005 Shaun P. Attwood