Reach Out and Gouge Someone

How inmate phone services lock up profits.

Trying to avoid charges for ring time or unanswered calls, some prisoners have taken to dialing their loved ones just long enough to let the phone ring two or three times to let them know they're safe--but the DOC regards such behavior as improper "signaling." "Guys are going to the hole for this," says Sandi Izor, executive director of the Human Rights Coalition, who keeps a time sheet of all her calls from her inmate husband, Garry, and has obtained refunds for some charges. "It's ridiculous."

CURE's Auldridge says that other states take an even bigger bite of inmate phone revenues--last year Virginia collected $12.5 million, half the total revenues from that state's prison phone system--and that state officials have been reluctant to address the propriety of developing a multi-million-dollar revenue stream at the expense of struggling families of men who've been incarcerated.

"They think they've found a group of people who have no voice, who they can do anything they want to," Auldridge says. "They can't see the moral issue. The legislators don't want to give up the money."

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