How Prison Phone Calls Became a Tax on the Poor | Prison Phone Justice

On a recent sticky morning in a trailer park in Biloxi, Mississippi, Mary Jo Barnett switched on her 8-inch Samsung Galaxy tablet to speak with her 20-year-old daughter, Amber, who suffers from bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Amber is currently locked up 490 miles away in the Marion County Jail in Ocala, Florida, and these video visits are her only lifeline to her family and the outside world. Without communication, Mary Jo says she fears her daughter may suffer a mental breakdown or start a fight, which could lengthen her jail sentence. “Just getting to talk to her and interacting with her can make the difference in her mindset,” Mary Jo says. Communication, however, is enormously expensive for Mary Jo, a 52-year-old grandmother who lives on $733 monthly disability checks.

The video visitations cost $10 per 30-minute visit, or $19.99 per month. Phone calls, meanwhile, cost $3.98 for every 15 minutes, plus a $9.95 fee to load money into an account. Part of the reason the calls are so expensive is because a private company, Securus Technologies, has an exclusive contract to operate the phone and video visitation system in the jail. But an even larger reason the phone calls are so expensive is because the local sheriff’s office takes a large cut of the money, called a “commission.”

Last year, Marion County received $549,804.52 in commissions from Securus, according to contracts and financial documents obtained by International Business Times through a records request.

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Categories: Prison Reform

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