MUMIA FROM DEATH ROW: The highest-priced phone calls in the U.S.

The phone rings. It’s been a month since you’ve heard the voice of your child, your mate or your parent. A half-minute recording begins blathering… and soon the voice of your loved one comes on the line. For 10 short and precious minutes you share sweet nothings, hopes and family news before the line goes dead. Depending on where you are calling from your 10-minute phone call costs $6, $10 or $17.50. And that cost is borne by over 2 million families in America, the families of prisoners who pay more per minute, per call, than any other population in America.

The phone rings. It’s been a month since you’ve heard the voice of your child, your mate or your parent. A half-minute recording begins blathering… and soon the voice of your loved one comes on the line. For 10 short and precious minutes you share sweet nothings, hopes and family news before the line goes dead. Depending on where you are calling from your 10-minute phone call costs $6, $10 or $17.50. And that cost is borne by over 2 million families in America, the families of prisoners who pay more per minute, per call, than any other population in America.

Welcome to the nationwide scam where state and private prison administrators shake down the poor with absurdly high phone rates, which, because of lucrative kickbacks, constitutes a hidden tax upon those least able to afford it.

At a time when satellite and computer technology has driven telephone costs down to a nickel or a dime a minute (witness the flood of AT&T and Sprint commercials on TV), state and privately-run prisons charge upwards to a dollar or even two dollars a minute for collect calls.

If we accept that most of those imprisoned in the U.S. are from poor and working-class families, then we must acknowledge that it is they, the poorest of the poor, who are saddled with the highest costs for phone service. Nor are those prices simply the costs of doing business, as shown by the windfall gained by state and private prison companies.

New York state nets some $21 million per year; California, some $23 million; both Ohio and Missouri net about $14 million in kickbacks from the phone companies; Pennsylvania, some $4 million.

Some relatives of prisoners are suing both the state and private prison companies for such excessive rates. In Valdez v. Wackenhut Corrections Corp., a state action filed in New Mexico in December 1999, relatives of prisoners held in private institutions challenge the exclusive contracts entered into by the prison companies. They argue that these exclusive contracts and subsequent kickbacks violate the state’s Unfair Practices Act, which outlaws unfair and unconscionable trade practices. The suit is still pending.

The phone is dialed. You wait anxiously for the voice of your loved one, your child, your mate or your parent to come on the line. Instead, the annoying voice is heard, a recording once again. It plays thus: “The number you have reached will not accept collect calls.” Once again the state, private prisons and phone companies have bled the meager resources of the poor.

There may be a lot of rhetoric about “cutting taxes” in the nation’s and states’ capitals, but for the poor, for the families of those encaged in American gulags, the tax on accepting calls from one’s loved ones continues to rise at a remarkable rate.

Author: Mumia Abu-Jamal

News Service: Workers World News

URL: http://www.workers.org/ww/2000/mumia1102.html