If you think you already know there is anything to know about inmate calls, you better think again.
The prison calling system in the US is a web of complicated policies. Each state makes their own rules which accounts for most of the confusion. What may be applicable in Florida might be frowned upon in Washington. Yet there are also regulations that holds true for the whole country.
Here are five things you probably didn’t know about our country’s inmate telephone system.
You Can’t Call an Inmate
You read it right. You cannot initiate a call with an inmate. Rather, it’s only them who can call you. This makes a lot of sense when you look at it from a security officer’s point of view.
We all know that prisoners are kept in their prison cells away from the telephone booths. In some cases, the phone is in the warden’s office. Now, imagine if family members would just simply call prisoners whenever they please. Jail guards would have to escort the inmates from their cells to the phone booths from time to time. That is a security risk that most jail administrators are not prepared to take.
Also, the facility would need more manpower to escort prisoners back and forth. Some of them are already struggling with a meager budget. The last thing they need is more people on their payroll.
Of course, the warden can always make exceptions in emergency cases. You can call the facility and ask them to pass along a message to an inmate. Though messages like this rarely gets to the inmate specially for large penitentiaries.
Wardens Have the Final Word
Federal laws specifically allow and even command jail wardens to establish and put in place jail calling regulations. They have the autonomy to impose call time windows and even gets to choose jail calling providers.
The Arizona Department of Corrections even issued a guideline for wardens. It says that they will ensure that there are telephones in each institution. They also have to make sure that these phones are somewhere far enough from crowded areas to afford the inmates some privacy.
Call duration limits will also have to be implemented by them. Jail phones will be equipped with a timing device that cuts off the call when the time lapses. They also need to limit the number of calls each inmate gets to make per week. They have to be informed in writing though. The limit will be based on the inmate’s individual security classifications.
Any disputes or complaints about telephone privileges of inmates have to be taken up to the warden.
Inmates Can’t Talk Longer Than 15 Minutes
If you’re ever wondering how long can an inmate call last, the answer is 15 minutes. After that, they will have to wait another hour to be able to make calls again. This policy is federal prisoners though. County jails and state penitentiaries have autonomy on the matter. This means they can set a limit to call durations however long they see fit.
In Texas state prisons, for example, inmates have to work for their phone calls. If one is not engaged in any productive activity, they can’t use the phone. Also, calls can only last up to 5 minutes and they have to request for such in writing. In Washington, prisoners are free to use the common payphone as long as they don’t monopolize it.
Calls made inside the prison cells are also closely monitored and recorded. This is to avoid any talk of illegal transactions over the phone. The inmate can request for an exception though but only for calls made to lawyers. This too needs to be in writing.
So whenever an inmate calls you, remember they only have a few precious minutes to talk. Make it count.
Calling Privileges Are Revocable Anytime
One thing you need to remember is that jail calls are more of a privilege than a right. The government can cancel it when the circumstances warrant so.
There are a couple of reasons why inmates would lose the ability to make calls. First is when they violate a rule at the penitentiary. Common violations include engaging in brawls, destroying public property and substance abuse. The warden can ban them from making calls for a certain period of time. They may or may not also be able allowed to send or receive letters and any other forms of communication.
Another reason that inmates lose their phone privilege is during a lockdown. In which case, all inmates won’t be able to make calls. Lockdowns usually happen when there are threats to prison security.
Calls Can Be a Lot Cheaper
Inmates and their families alike can testify on how expensive prison phone calls can be. It is so pricey that some families even have to make a choice to either put food on the table or call their loved one in jail. This is the reason why most inmates don’t get much calls in a year.
Since most facilities are under contract with a single phone call services provider, cost of calls aren’t going down anytime soon. But what if I’ll tell you there’s a way to keep these costs at a minimum?
You see, one of the factors for the very steep rates is because inmates usually call long distance numbers. They can’t really help it if their family is in California yet they got incarcerated in New York. So if they call a local number, the cost is slashed dramatically.
Some companies offer a way out of this. When you sign up for their jail calling service, they will investigate on in what prison the inmate is incarcerated. Then they will give you a local number that is not in use. Inmates can dial these numbers and have the call forwarded to your real number. This will ensure that you don’t get ripped off by those prison call companies again.
If you find this post informative, check out our other prison news. We also offer resources on finding cheap jail call service, inmate locator and a directory of prison aid groups for the families of inmates.