Report Examines TN And U.S. Prison Phone Call Charges

Image Credit: Tennessee Department of Correction / Facebook

The Center Square [By Jon Styf] –

A phone call from a local Tennessee jail costs an average of $2.97 per minute for a 15-minute call, 1.8 times more expensive than state prisons, according to a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative.

The report looked at costs of calls across the United States and the causes of the different rates. Tennessee’s rate was within 5 cents per minute of most of its neighboring states outside of Arkansas ($3.15) and Virginia ($2.65).

“Because jails and prisons often choose their telecom providers on the basis of which company will pay the facility the most money in kickbacks,” the report said. “Combine the companies’ profit-seeking with the correctional facilities’ revenue-seeking, and the poorest families in the country end up paying higher rates to stay connected than anyone else.”

The average rates for calls in Tennessee have been lower than other states in the country with an average charge of $3.22 in 2008, $3.06 in 2014 and $2.40 in 2016 and 2018 for in-state calls.

Out-of-state calls, however, were $12.17 per minute in 2008 before dropping to $3.15 in 2014 and were $1.65 in 2021.

The report also looked into a Knox County policy that started in 2014, where in-person prison visits were stopped in favor of video-only visits.

The report showed that the change prevented inmates from maintaining social connections and, in turn, assaults between those incarcerated and assaults on staff increased after the ban.

The policy did, however, increase profits for the county’s sheriff’s office, which made $70,000 off the 50% commissions on the video visits, which cost $6 a visit.

“The results are clear: The ban on in-person visits makes the jail more dangerous, does nothing to stop the flow of contraband, and strips money from the pockets of families,” the 2018 report said. “It’s time to end the ban and give visitors the option to see their friends and loved ones face to face.”

In-person visits restarted until COVID-19 interrupted the process again.

About the Author: Jon Styf, The Center Square Staff Reporter – Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies. Follow Jon on Twitter @JonStyf.

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