Prisoners’ rights groups have complained, at one time or another, about just about every aspect of the U.S. prison system. Wardens, administrators and sheriffs walk a fine line between running orderly, safe institutions and maintaining the fundamental rights of prisoners. But the truth is that those who manage prisons, often elected officials, serve the local residents of their communities first and prisoners and their families a distant second. While many of the critics of U.S. prisons and jails voice their concerns loudly, polls consistently show that a large, silent majority of U.S. citizens value law and order above just about any other concern and want to keep the prison system operating more or less how it traditionally has.
Inmate calling, price gouging or valuable privilege?
One case in point is the contentious issue of inmate calling in prisons and jails. For example, in the state of Louisiana, the state itself takes 71 percent of all revenues generated from inmate calling. The parish jails take between 34 and 87 percent. This has the predictable consequence of raising the rates that inmates pay.
Yet the average cost of a phone call in that state is still only about $.15 per minute, a rate comparable with long distance charges on the outside. These rates are historically low by comparison. But another aspect of this debate is that the U.S. courts have ruled again and again that inmates have no right to make phone calls. Thus inmate telephone use itself is best viewed as a privilege, not some form of human right subject to violation.