July 19, 2012
BOSTON — How much is too much to pay for a phone call? Families and lawyers testified at a hearing on July 19, saying inmates in Massachusetts jails and prisons are charged too much to talk by phone with the outside world.
When you make a phone call, you may not even consider the cost, because it could be part of a monthly plan of unlimited calls. But for jail and prison inmates in Massachusetts, just placing a phone call costs $3. Then, depending on where they're calling, rates can be as high as $.89 a minute. Ruth Dimanche, a Boston college student whose brother was recently in jail, said it was too expensive to keep in touch with him.
"We wouldn't be able to visit him in prison. It's too far away, we have other responsibilities. So having that phone call, knowing they're safe, that they're okay or knowing any needs they have is very important, to have that connection. And it gives them hope," she said.
Dimanche took her complaint to a hearing held by the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable. She was upset not just with the high cost, but the fact that prisons and jails take a commission on every call.
The phone companies were also at the hearing. Curtis Hopfinger of Securus Technologies in Texas said the calls costs more because inmate calls are usually monitored and recorded.
"Our company is mainly a technology company and our goal is safety, security and fraud detection, which is not on regular telephone services," he said.
Inmates' families and lawyers foot the bills for phone calls and said they will not be able to keep paying the current rates. They also argued that inmates deserve access to legal services and conversation with their children and spouses
If the Department of Telecommunications and Cable decides not to dismiss the petition, then it will launch an investigation into the actual costs of providing phone service to inmates.