Most prisons in America contract out their phone services for incarcerated people to two telecommunications companies: Securus Technologies and Global Tel Link.
This allows those companies to set and control pricing for the vast majority of all phone calls from people in prison. Incarcerated people typically set up accounts with one of these companies and family members deposit money into their accounts for these phone calls.
As part of a deal with the state, millions of dollars in commission payments go to state and local law enforcement coffers. Meanwhile, families of people in prison often struggle to afford the cost of communicating with their loved ones.
The per-minute phone call rates that families of people in prison are charged are often exorbitant, forcing them to choose between meeting their own basic needs or communicating regularly with family members in prison.
Diane Lewis, the mother of Jovaan Lumpkin, formerly incarcerated at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut, said the cost of talking to her son two or three times a week sometimes replaced meals.
Other times, it forced her to choose between talking to Lumpkin or having her lights and gas on.
Lewis said she kept these struggles from her son because she knew how much he looked forward to the calls and she didn’t want to dampen his spirits. Lewis told the Yale Daily News that Lumpkin was “feeling worse than any of us would ever feel, and he needed us to keep him uplifted.”
She said the idea of having to pay so much to express her love for her son was baffling. “To tell your kids you love them should be free.”