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  #1  
Old 05-15-2001, 04:41 AM
Askia Askia is offline
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Short story long: Few years ago a friend of mine got arrested and called me and my roommate (his brother) a lot from Fulton County lockup (Atlanta). We really wanted to support him because we felt he got a raw deal, but that ended immediately after the first phone bill came in. Our usual $200 bill ballooned to over $550 -- $375 came from our accepting daily (sometimes two-or-three times daily) calls.

We knew we would be accepting higher charges, but were unaware that these calls would be $2.95 a pop (We figured 75 cents, like all the other collect pay phone charges -- the automated message from the message never said how much.)

I never fought it. I never paid it. Neither did my roommate. In fact, I took my savings out the bank and moved out of state the following week to go back to school, like I'd been planning all along. Ultimately a dumb move, because the phone bill was in my name alone...

So, as I sit here staring at a copy of my credit report, I'm wistfully remembering bygone days and how being a friend is still biting me in my ass. I'm just wondering: why the hell were those calls so damn expensive anyway?
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  #2  
Old 05-15-2001, 04:49 AM
Badtz Maru Badtz Maru is offline
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Because they can get away with it. People in jail REALLY want to talk to someone on the outside, and friends and family members feel obligated to take the call.

I hate it too. Last time I went to jail I just said 'Screw it' and didn't bother calling anyone.
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  #3  
Old 05-15-2001, 04:51 AM
Askia Askia is offline
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Gee, and I thought there were laws against price-gouging.
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  #4  
Old 05-15-2001, 05:12 AM
JohnW77707 JohnW77707 is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Askia K. Hale
Gee, and I thought there were laws against price-gouging.

As a lawyer, I have read of a few class-action lawsuits that have been filed regarding this practice, although I am not personally familiar with the facts of any of them. I think that the practice is, slowly, being phased out.
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  #5  
Old 05-15-2001, 07:05 AM
wring wring is offline
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One other thing that hasn't been mentioned - the phone companies pay a percentage to the prison. when we had a correction center, we got a cut of the take on the pay phone. In our case it wasn't big bucks (since it was a regular pay phone) but in the cases of these prison phones, huge bucks can be made.

On a side note, if you're stranded somewhere and pay phones are the only option, note, too, many of them have huge charges as well, from odd little companies.

Also, in the case of a jail phone, making a collect local call it's something outrageous, like $3 for the first minute then charges per minute. And, many of the jails/prisons have added an overriding voice message "this is a call from a penal institution" in case the inmate is scamming.
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  #6  
Old 05-15-2001, 07:36 AM
RainbowDragon RainbowDragon is offline
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I understand that collect calls from prison are more expensive (captive audience – literally).

However, I don’t understand how a phone company can charge you with no agreement as far as price. In receiving a collect call, how do I know that I am not going to be charged $3.99 a minute?

In order to be a valid contract – doesn’t there need to be a “meeting of the minds” as far as price?
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  #7  
Old 05-15-2001, 08:10 AM
wring wring is offline
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You know that you're accepting a collect call. your options are to refuse the call or pay the charges.
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  #8  
Old 05-15-2001, 09:24 AM
sailor sailor is offline
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skipping town not paying your phone bill is not a wise thing to do.

I had a similar experience a couple of years ago. I accepted a couple of phone calls (from a friend who was telling me she missed her connecting flight and would be arriving on another flight).

When the bill arrived it was *huge* and I called the phone co and told them I refused to pay it. We had some back and forth arguing. They said I had "accepted" the call and I said yes within reasonable charges. Or were they saying they could now take my house and my first born child? I was adamant that I was not paying anything unreasonable (say 3 times the cost of a normal collect call). In the end they just dropped the entire thing and I didn't have to pay anything.
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  #9  
Old 05-15-2001, 12:04 PM
casdave casdave is offline
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In UK jails inmates cannot make collect calls and must use phones using phonecards for which they must pay.They are then compelled to sign their cards at the moment they recieve the.

This has led to phonecards becoming currency so prisoners are only allowed a certain number in their possession at any one time.

Whenever an inmate is caught with a large number of phonecards, and if the name of the original authorised user has been erased or interfered with it leads to that prisoner being suspected of racketeering, say in drugs and in bullying, strongarming etc, known in jail parlance as 'taxing'.

Taxing in prisons is often associated with bullying, especially in young offender establishments. Inmates who show signs of being bullied are considered to be a suicide risk.

One high value item for a prisoner to have, illegally of course, is a mobile phone since these calls are not easily monitored and are usually held by one inmate in return for payment from another, usually a drug dealer.
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  #10  
Old 05-16-2001, 02:06 AM
Ariadne Ariadne is offline
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prison calls

I have a relative in jail, and all his calls are charged to his prison account. It's a federal prison, Fort Dix, so maybe that's why it's different. However, he's been moved around a lot to testify, and all the jails he's called from have been the same way. A voice comes on and says that I won't be charged for the call, and that it's from a federal prison, then I get to dial 5 to accept the call, and the voice breaks in every few minutes to remind me that he's in jail (as though I didn't remember).

Actually, Mom and I were recently joking about how he hurries through calls, because the money for the phone calls comes from the same account as the money for snack food.
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  #11  
Old 05-16-2001, 06:58 AM
Askia Askia is offline
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Rainbow Dragon: That neither one of us were told what we were paying for accepting the collect calls was something I didn't realize until much later -- simply because I was going through emotional changes dealing with my felon friend and his brother, and I had been planning to leave town for college anyway, and I was feeling guilty enough about leaving with them in the lurch like that.

I think I made the decision to pay the phone bill later as a way to atone leaving town when my boys were in trouble. But still--!!

wring: It's not as simple as accept/don't accept. When you're dealing with a close friend/family member in jail for something stupid, you want to help. Even though myself and my roommate were both working barely-above-minimum wage jobs at the time, we could have afforded a 75 cents-to-a-dollar per collect call from the local jail. Bottom line: We got taken. It's hurt me more because everything was in my name. I'm wiser now.

sailor: MaaaaaaaAAAan, I wish I had had you for a roommate.

casdave: I wondered about phone calling calls and mobile phones in prison and whether they'd work. Thanks for answering those unasked questions.

Ariadne: There was a similar "snack account" where he was, and the prices for cigarettes, sodas, candy bars and even the newspapers were jacked higher there, too. I find it unsettling when the dehumanizing and liberty-deriving conditions of prison are extending to families of the incarcerated with no logic other than, "just because we can."
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  #12  
Old 05-16-2001, 07:12 AM
wring wring is offline
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Askia - I didn't try to imply any kind of 'tone' or meaning to 'you accepted the call' except to establish the legal 'accepting of the terms' - (yes, the terms aren't spelled out, but they make you aware that you're being charged)

And I understand the sense of 'ohmygod', and agree that a reasonably nice/kind person would accept the call, and not necessarily know that the charges are so high (especially if it's a local call). I remember the sticker shock when I saw my first one. That's why my co established the policy of not accepting collect calls from the jails.

I'm sorry if you felt I was trying to say you shouldn't have accepted the call. It wasn't my intent at all.
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  #13  
Old 05-16-2001, 08:24 AM
Askia Askia is offline
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wring: I'm sorry you felt you needed to apologize! That's okay, man. Relax.
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  #14  
Old 05-16-2001, 02:24 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
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Askia K. Hale writes:

> I find it unsettling when the dehumanizing and liberty
> deriving conditions of prison are extending to families
> of the incarcerated with no logic other than, "just
> because we can."

I'm not surprised by any of this. Nobody gets elected on the platform of "I'm going to treat people in jail and their families fairly." On the contrary, people get elected by announcing that they will decrease the crime rate by throwing more people in jail. It doesn't bother them that the percentage of the population in jail has already tripled over the past 20 years. They aren't bothered either by the illogic of treating prisoners in a dehumanizing fashion so that when they get out they will become better humans.
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  #15  
Old 05-16-2001, 05:43 PM
liebfels liebfels is offline
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Now that we've determined that the only reason collect calls out of jails are expensive is because of the ease of explioting inmates, let's try another approach.

Consider the sort of people in jails. Manny of them are criminals - either convicted or waiting their turn. What do some criminals have in common? Certainly, they have families and defense lawyers. Under the scheme I've read so far in this thread, clearly the system is designed to punish these people.

To which I write, "phooey". The reason that jail calls are expensive is that criminals tend to also have victims. The people who keep criminals in jail tend to like to protect victims. They create phone systems that attempt to limit an inmate's opportunity to call victims. This tends to cost money. Unfortunately for criminals and the people they call, no one expects victims to foot the bill. You will find that on balance, most people in law enforcement care more about whether victims receive phone calls from criminals than what those criminals need to pay to talk on a phone.
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  #16  
Old 05-16-2001, 05:55 PM
wring wring is offline
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actually liebfels there are other ways to insure that convicts inside are not scamming on the outside without the huge costs to their families. In the first place, the collect call has a prerecorded message "this call is from a penal institute/county jail/prison" whatever. and in case the inmate has called girlfriend who has 3 way calling, the aforementioned recordings during the call will alert even the most obtuse, that the call is from a penal institution.

having abysmal costs for the inmates family is not a requirement.
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  #17  
Old 05-16-2001, 06:07 PM
JillGat JillGat is offline
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Liebfels, please only hit the "Submit" button once. I realize it gets confusing when you get timed out, but your message posted five times (I deleted em). Thanks! And thank you wring for pointing it out.
Jill
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  #18  
Old 05-17-2001, 12:01 AM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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One reason for the extra charge is that you are not actually paying simply the phone company. I recently received one of these calls from a co-worker of my wife. Several people have noted that there is a pre-recorded message and an opportunity to refuse the call. In the one that I received, the notice mentioned that it was a "service" provided by the Acme Jail Phone Service.

My guess is that Acme (or whoever) installs specially modified phones with anti-bypass software on them. They probably have a cost to the jail (since they are probably bidding against other providers of the same service) plus they have the cost of the software (and possibly hardware). They also probably have a moderately high replacement rate on the equipment, given who their users are and how frequently the calls probably get refused.

Given that, there is an inherently higher cost to managing these phone calls. Of course, as noted, once they have bought off the sheriff, they have a nice little monopoly with no controls.

My guess would be that they have started with a legitimate need to charge higher prices and have then used their "sole provider" status to really rake in the profits.

Of course, if they sent you a bill directly, you would probably throw it out and claim that your 5-year-old had accepted all the calls, so they simply use the "holder in due process" formula that has been in place at the various phone companies for years and send the bill through the local carrier.
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  #19  
Old 05-18-2001, 02:57 AM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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In New York, the Department of Corrections collects five percent of the telephone fee. We do this as the site owner and stores which have pay telephones collect a similar fee. The money collected this way is put into the inmate recreation fund. So essentially, the deprtment is making no money off of phone calls. The same deal applies to vending machines.

Telephone service and vending machine service is bid out to private corporations. A general open announcement is made of what service is being bid and what the conditions are, and any company can place a bid in.

So while companies are apparently placing bids that are higher than the same services on the street, they apparently feel confident that the competitors are doing the same. Presumedly all of these companies are taking factors like vandalism and a limited customer base into account when they make their bids. But if you feel the prices are unfair, don't blame the prison; we had nothing to do with setting those prices.
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  #20  
Old 05-18-2001, 07:11 AM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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Quote:
So essentially, the deprtment is making no money off of phone calls.

Telephone service and vending machine service is bid out to private corporations.
It makes sense that the prison/jail makes no money on an individual phone call.

On the bidding: does the phone service pay the department of corrections for the privelege of being the sole provider? Or does the department of corrections pay the phone service for the use of the equipment?

(Just curious. I realize that no one on either side of the fence is getting filthy rich off this business.)
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  #21  
Old 05-20-2001, 01:19 AM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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The telephone and vending services are completely autonomous from the prison administration. The equipment is installed, owned, operated, and serviced by the outside company.
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  #22  
Old 05-20-2001, 09:57 AM
wring wring is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Little Nemo
The telephone and vending services are completely autonomous from the prison administration. The equipment is installed, owned, operated, and serviced by the outside company.
sure, but just as in the outside, the property owner (where it's placed) often is paid some cut in order to have the item on the property. (note, I think the gum ball machines for charity do not pay a cut, but I've been offered the 'opportunity' to have vending machines on my premises and part of the deal was that I'd get a small cut. The pay phone at the correction center definately paid a cut to our agency)
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  #23  
Old 05-20-2001, 10:37 AM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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Little Nemo, your statement that prompted my most recent question was
Quote:
Telephone service and vending machine service is bid out to private corporations.
I know of no scenario in which a bid does not result in the exchange of money. So I was curious whether the bid was for the service company to pay for the privilege or the corrections department was to pay for the service.

Again, I am sure that the money exchanged is probably less than a rounding error on the annual budget report of either group, but I was curious as to which direction the money was going.
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  #24  
Old 05-20-2001, 01:47 PM
PatrickM PatrickM is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Little Nemo

In New York, the Department of Corrections collects five percent of the telephone fee. We do this as the site owner and stores which have pay telephones collect a similar fee. The money collected this way is put into the inmate recreation fund. So essentially, the deprtment is making no money off of phone calls.
I'm sorry but I don't buy the "we're not making any money" argument. The State Department of Corrections IS receiving money off of the high phone rates, even if it uses the money for legitimate prison purposes such as the inmate recreation fund. That's money that it doesn't have to get from the legislature, meaning the taxpayers at large. Instead, it collects money to replace general tax revenue from the family and friends of criminals, knowing full well that the family and friends of criminals, even though innocent themselves, have no pull in the legislature.
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  #25  
Old 05-20-2001, 02:07 PM
Askia Askia is offline
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PatrickM: So collect calls made from the local jail could be used for an 'inmate recreations fund' for the really hardened criminals in the state prison?

If that's accurate, those hardly seem like legitimate expenses to ME.
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  #26  
Old 05-20-2001, 02:36 PM
PatrickM PatrickM is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Askia K. Hale
PatrickM: So collect calls made from the local jail could be used for an 'inmate recreations fund' for the really hardened criminals in the state prison?

If that's accurate, those hardly seem like legitimate expenses to ME.

Askia, maybe I'm dense, but I don't get your point.

I don't think that its right that an inmate's family and friends have to pay much higher than normal phone bills just because they accept a call from an inmate, and just because that money may go into the fund for inmate recreation. What does whether the criminal is in the state pen orin the local county jail have to do with it? IMHO, taking money from the inmate's family and friends under such circumstances is just as inappropriate either way.
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