Imagine having to go into debt to stay in touch with a loved one — all while fearing for their safety and well-being. That is the grim reality facing 1 in 3 families of incarcerated people in the United States, thanks to the sky-high costs of phone calls from prison. So it is welcome news that California has moved against this cruel situation. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law to make all phone calls from state prisons free. Now it’s time for other states, and Congress, to act.
It can cost staggering sums for people in prison to communicate with the outside world. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the average charge for a 15-minute call is $5.74 — but prices can go as high as $24.82. Because incarcerated people are disproportionately low-income, families often have to choose between keeping in contact and paying for other needs.