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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 5/7/15

Jails Are a Cash Cow for the Rich

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Reprinted from Smirking Chimp


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Rampant privatization is wreaking havoc on our society.

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Case in point: what's happened over the past few decades with prison phone services.

It used to be that if you were incarcerated at, say, the state penitentiary or the local jail you could call your family collect for as little as $4 an hour.

But then, states began signing contracts with private phone companies like AT&T, who, in turn, began charging sky-high rates for phone calls between prisoners and their families.

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A 15-minute phone call that used to cost just a few bucks soon started costing as much as $17, which is a lot to ask from people in jail and prison, who generally have little to no income or from their families, who often live in poverty.

Of course, while prisoners struggled to find a way to talk to their loved ones without breaking the bank, the phone companies got -- and have stayed -- very, very rich. The prison phone service industry now rakes in around $1.2 billion every year.

And it's not just the phone companies that are getting rich off prisoners' phone calls.

Thanks to so-called "commissions" that can account for as much as 94 percent of the cost of a call, prison phone contracts have become a major source of revenue for state and local governments all across the country.

These glorified kickbacks have also become a source of revenue for prisons themselves, and they use them to pay for the health care and food services they're already constitutionally required to provide.

In other words, like pretty much every other case of privatization over the past few decades, the rise of private prison phone contracts has nothing to do with "efficiency" or "improving services" and has everything do with making a quick buck for some crony capitalist with a bunch of Republican friends in Congress.

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As Paul Wright of the Human Rights Defense Center told ThinkProgress,

"For decades, prisons and jails provided secure, cheap telephone services with no problems. They're perfectly capable of doing it. It's just that now they view prisoners as profit centers. They're monetizing human suffering and human captivity."

Luckily, though, the government is starting to take action against some of the worst excesses of the phone service-industrial complex.

In 2013, the FCC capped calls between prisoners and their out-of-state family members to no more than 25 cents per minute.

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Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War (more...)
 
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