As Iowa sees its highest incarceration rates in eight years and rates of recidivism are also on the rise, private companies are making a profit, and it’s the families who are footing the bills. A recent article by The Gazette’s Erin Jordan, revealed the high cost of prison phone calls from people who are incarcerated to family members. One family paid nearly one dollar a minute for phone calls with their incarcerated father.
Additionally, “The Gazette surveyed 12 Eastern Iowa county jails in May about how much inmates and their families pay per minute for in-state calls. The highest rate in the area was in Bremer County, where inmates pay $3.74 for the first minute of an in-state call, followed by 74 cents a minute after, which results in a 15-minute phone call costing $14.10.”
Calls from county jails are often more expensive than state and federal prisons because counties negotiate contracts with private service providers.
The cost of these calls work as a tax on lower income families. It’s also a tax on black families. Iowa is one of the worst states in the nation for racial disparity within its prison population. The Gazette reported in May, “Less than 4 percent of Iowa’s population is African-American, 25.4 percent of the state’s prison inmates are black.”
The cost of these phone calls is part of a national trend of private companies profiting off prison populations. In November of 2019, the Appalachian Free Book Project published a study revealing that “free tablet” programs in prisons actually charge inmates access fees, which include “music, games, electronic messaging, eBooks,” other costs include $0.05 per minute, video visitation features cost $0.25 per minute and instant messaging costs $0.25 per written message.
In order to combat the private profiteering from tragedy, the Iowa Utilities Board should cap inmate phone rates and counties should avoid taking a cut of the profits.
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