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When a Simple Phone Call is Another Hill to Climb

A former House Manager of Family Reconciliation Center (FRC) uttered a truth not long ago about staying connected with the incarcerated. It’s a truth each FRC client knows all too well. “Everything about having a loved one in prison is hard.”

That phrase entered my head when I came across a story on the cost of phone calls to and from the incarcerated. Titled “Mother or Money? The Exorbitant Cost of Phone Calls from Jail,” the piece in Harvard Political Review cites a disturbing statistic: the average cost of a 15-minute call from a county jail in the U.S. is $5.74, and they can cost up to $24.92.

Compare that to the 12 cents an hour paid as a minimum wage in federal prisons.

While some prisons, including those in Tennessee, allowed for free phone calls during the COVID-19 pandemic, they were limited to once a week. Most states have contracts with vendors that allow for steep telephone charges.

Yet there are places that are doing things the right way. In 2020, Connecticut became the first state to make all phone calls from prison completely free. San Francisco is doing the same for county jails.

The "R" in FRC stands for "reconciliation." Before the outbreak of COVID-19, prison visitation was difficult—logistically and financially—for many. Now, the pandemic has made in-person visitation much, much harder. Let’s hope Tennessee’s prisons and jails can follow the lead of Connecticut and San Francisco.


As the author of the Harvard Political Review article says, “A child should always be able to talk to their parents. A partner should always be given the right to talk to their significant other.”


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