Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

January 14, 2006 - New York Times

Editorial: Keeping in Touch With a Parent in Prison

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

One way to cut down on the number of inmates who end up right back in prison shortly after being released is to make sure that they preserve their ties with their families, especially with spouses and children, while they are serving time.

But keeping in touch is often impossible for inmates and their families because of state prison systems that earn huge profits from inmates' phone calls by forcing the family members who receive those collect calls to pay usurious rates.

As a result, a family must often choose between talking to a loved one in prison and putting food on the table.

A bill introduced in Congress by Representative Bobby Rush, Democrat of Illinois, would help end this shameful practice by requiring the Federal Communications Commission to set fair rates for interstate phone calls made from prison.

The bill will surely face fierce opposition from the telecommunications lobby and from state prison systems that have grown accustomed to gouging the poorest families in the country to subsidize some prison-related activities. But the current arrangement is both counterproductive and morally indefensible.

State prison systems typically use telephone setups that permit only collect calls, made through providers that keep a monopoly on prison telephone service by paying the states a "commission" -- essentially a legal kickback. The kickback does not materialize out of thin air.

The people who receive the phone calls often pay as much as six times the going rate. Not surprisingly, the costs discourage inmates from keeping in touch with spouses and children who may live hundreds of miles away and find it difficult or impossible to visit.

Federal prisons use a significantly less expensive debit-calling system, which lets inmates use the money accumulated in computer-controlled accounts to place easily monitored calls to a limited group of phone numbers.

The Rush bill would require prisons to use both collect-calling and debit-calling systems. It would also prohibit providers from paying kickbacks to prison systems, and would require each prison system to allow more than one phone company to enter the market.

In addition, the law would not let prison phone providers refuse to place calls to phone numbers served by rival companies.

Prison systems are likely to argue that the current arrangement is just fine because it helps pay for programs that benefit the inmates.

But the high phone rates are actually a hidden tax on people who already pay for the prisons through their taxes.

Beyond that, the states should not be in the business of bleeding low-income families - and fraying already fragile family ties -- to pay for services that the state itself is obligated to provide.

Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact