How Late Can Inmates Make Phone Calls?

Decades ago, the government uses prison time to punish those who have violated the law. Its main purpose is to curtail someone’s freedom and keep them away from their loved ones as a form of penance. In recent times, the focus of incarceration has shifted from punishment to rehabilitation. Jail time is not anymore seen as a form of punishment but rather as an opportunity to reform an erring person.

Metal door signage for US penitentiary.

With this belief, the US Justice system has allowed inmates to make phone calls to their families. It recognizes the importance of support from loved ones to rehabilitate someone. Also, cutting them off completely from the people they care about seems inhumane. It won’t be of any help if the ultimate goal is to reintroduce them to society.

Overview of the prison phone system

In general, prison facilities have phone amenities inmates can access. The terms to its accessibility, however, remains the sole discretion of its administrator.

The Code of Federal Regulations designates the warden as an overseer of prison calls. It requires them to put in place measures to ensure that these phone calls are not abused.

It’s also important to remember that you can’t call an inmate. They are only allowed to make outgoing calls. Incoming calls are never permitted. Sure you can ask a jail staff to relay a message but this hardly ever reaches the prisoner.

These calls are also strictly monitored and even recorded. Thus, any discussions of illegal activities and other sensitive topics are best avoided.

Regulations and Restrictions

Since wardens have the autonomy in regulating calls, rules vary for each facility.

One common rule is that inmates can only call pre-authorized numbers. To gain authorization, they must register the numbers they intend to call.

Different facilities use different registration process. Most use a digitized system which runs the numbers to see if they are not under the prohibited list. Other penitentiaries do not allow calls to mobile phones for security reasons. The digital registration process usually takes around fifteen minutes. Each offender can register 10 up to 25 contacts at a time.

In New York, calling federal and local criminal justice workers is not allowed. Inmates are also barred from calling inmates from other facilities even private vendors. Call conferencing, forwarding and diverting are off limits too. Any violation of these provisions will cause the call to disconnect.

Some states like Washington don’t implement the phone number registration system. Instead, prisoners have assigned Personal Identification Numbers (PIN) which they have to enter every time they place a call. Any unauthorized calls made under their PIN can get their phone privileges revoked. They also allow international calls and the use of telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD).

Requests for exemption from monitoring is also possible for calls with one’s attorney. Such requests must also follow proper protocols.

Calling hours

Like other aspects of prison, calling hours are subject to the warden’s jurisdiction. This is usually scheduled between 8:00 in the morning and 11:00 in the evening. Some facilities would even start as early as 7:00 AM. Calls made outside of this time frame might be allowed if it is an emergency. Again, it needs the warden’s permission which is almost always impossible to get.

In the Federal Bureau of Prisons, inmates have up to 300 minutes of calls consumable within the month. This resets on a specific date and any unused minutes are voided. The warden may extend this under special circumstances but this very rarely happens.

Each call can only last for at most 15 minutes. Inmates also have to wait for an hour after the start of their previous call before they can make another one. This makes every minute spent on the phone rather precious for both sides.

Revocation of Phone Privileges

As phone access is a privilege in prison, it can be revoked at any time the warden deems necessary. There are several possible reasons for this revocation. Most common of all are charges of misconduct while serving time. This usually lasts for a specific period of time depending on the severity of the charge. It can also be terminated once the courts convicts them.

Cheapest Phone Calls

Historically, prison calls costs about the same as local telephone calls. Then it started to rise and over the course of a few years, it came as high as $14 per minute. Like most prison services, these absurdly expensive rates are why most inmates very rarely use them.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission took steps to limit the cost of jail calls. Their decision lowers the cost of calls per minute and eliminates other fees. It applies to all detainees in federal and state prisons as well as immigrant detention centers. It’s likewise true for local jails though slightly higher.

In general, there are two ways by which an inmate can pay for their calls. First, their relatives can top up credits to their account. Second, they call collect.

Currently, the cheapest jail calling option is offered by Globaltel. When you sign up in their website, they give you a special jail phone number which the inmate can dial. Using these special numbers can save up a lot of money for both the inmate and their family. The call will be treated like a regular local call and will be billed as such.

They don’t collect sign-up fees or even force you into a contract. You can cancel your subscription anytime you like, no pressure. They even offer an option to record your calls so you can play it back when you miss your loved one in prison.

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