The federal government has successfully capped or limited the costs of phone calls and other fees charged to state prisoners. But jail inmates and their families are now paying an average three times the going rate for phone services, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.
Phone service providers are exploiting the weaknesses of local jails to charge exorbitant rates to inmates and their families, according to a Prison Policy Initiative study.
The costs of phone services has been dramatically lowered in state prisons as a result of lobbying by prison advocacy groups and caps imposed by the Federal Communications Commission, but calls from jails are now three times more expensive, averaging around $5.61 for a 15-minute call, said the study.
Citing Illinois jails as an example, the study found that a 15-minute phone call costs $7—some 52 times more than the cost of a similar call from Illinois state prisons.
Table courtesy Prison Policy Initiative
A call from a Michigan jail costs an average $12, but can reach as high as $22 for a 15-minute call, compared to $2.40 from the state’s prison system.
“Local jails are not significantly more expensive to serve than state prisons,” the study said. “Rather, phone providers have learned how to take advantage of the inherent weaknesses in how local jails, as opposed to state prisons, approach contracting.
“The result is that jails sign contracts with high rates that are particularly profitable for the providers.”
The study listed several reasons why jails are more “vulnerable to signing badf contracts,” including:
· Jails are smaller and have a harder time negotiated sophisiticated telecommunications contracts;
· Local governments rarely think in the long-term in negotiating contracts, since most are run by elected officials who concentrate on the next election;
· Since most jail inmates are booked for short-term periods, often awaiting trial and make few calls, sustained political pressure from families on jail administrators is unlikely.
Fees for services like Instagram are similarly subject to exploitation in jail populations, the study said.
While the FCC has scored huge progress in capping high fees—for example limiting fees charged for a credit card purchase has saved an estimated $48 million a year—jail populations are vulnerable to gouging tactics used by third-party payments systems.
Since many jail incarcerees live below or close to the poverty level, few have bank accounts, forcing them to pay bills by money transfer using services like WesternUnion or MoneyGram.
While the larger services charge standard prices of about $6 to send a $25 payment, some companies can charges as much as $10 or $12, the study said.
The study called on authorities to address a pattern of practices that result in further impoverishment of inmates and their relatives who are already struggling to make ends meet.
“Charging pretrial defendants high prices for phone calls punishes people who are legally innocent, drives up costs for their appointed counsel, and makes it hardoero for them to contact family members and others who might help them vost bail or build their defense.”
The study was written by Peter Wagner and Alexi Jones.
Oklahoma has the nation’s highest incarceration rate, but Ohio and Idaho jump into the lead when probation and parole is included, says a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative.
When it comes to ranking U.S. states on the harshness of their criminal justice systems, incarceration rates only tell half of the story.
More than two million people are in prisons and jails, but 4.5 million people nationwide are on probation and parole, and several of the seemingly “less punitive” states put vast numbers of their residents under these forms of supervision, says the Prison Policy Initiative in an updated report.
The advocacy group calculated each state’s rate of correctional control, which includes incarceration as well as community supervision (probation and parole). The report includes over 100 charts breaking down each state’s correctional population.
The report also includes an interactive chart that ranks states on their use of correctional control.
Among the findings:
–Ohio and Idaho surpass Oklahoma – the global leader in incarceration – in correctional control overall.
–Pennsylvania, which revoked Meek Mill’s probation last year, has the second-highest rate of correctional control in the nation.
–Rhode Island and Minnesota have some of the lowest incarceration rates in the country, but are among the most punitive when community supervision is accounted for.
Many of the highest rates of correctional control are in states with high rates of probation. “All too often, probation serves not as a true alternative to incarceration but as the last stop before prison,” says report author Alexi Jones. Jones proposes reforms and highlights flaws in current probation systems:
Probation imposes time-consuming conditions and fees that people struggle to meet, and which the report says can paradoxically hold them back from turning their lives around.
Violating even the most minor requirement (such as missing a meeting) can result in incarceration.
Probation terms can go on for years after the original offense, meaning even model probationers can serve decades under state scrutiny.
Jones says, “States are putting people on probation when a fine, warning, or community treatment program would suffice,” putting more people at risk of incarceration.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of the Crime Report.
More than half of formerly incarcerated individuals hold only a high school diploma or GED, and a quarter hold no credential at all, according to a new study by the Prison Policy Initiative.
Formerly incarcerated people are often relegated to the lowest rungs of the educational ladder, according to a new study released by the Prison Policy Initiative.
Author Lucius Couloute, a Policy Analyst with the Prison Policy Initiative and a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, found that more than half of formerly incarcerated individuals hold only a high school diploma or GED, and a quarter hold no credential at all.
“While incarcerated, and even after release from prison, we find that people rarely get the chance to make up for the educational opportunities from which they’ve been excluded — opportunities that impact their chances of reentry success,” said Couloute.
Significantly, Couloute found that inequalities between the general public and formerly incarcerated people begin early and accumulate at each level of education.
For example, formerly incarcerated people are nearly twice as likely to have no high school credential at all, she noted. And, more than half of formerly incarcerated people hold only a high school diploma or GED — credentials which have diminishing value in today’s job market.
Data showed that unlike the general public, people who have been to prison are more likely to have GEDs than they are to have traditional high school diplomas. And three-quarters of those GED certificates are earned in prison.
More, formerly incarcerated people are eight times less likely to complete college than the general public, according to the report.
However, the educational exclusion does not stop after prison.
“As our analysis shows, formerly incarnated individuals educational exclusion persists during and after incarceration.”
“We find that a quarter of formerly incarcerated people do not have a basic high school diploma or GED. And at least an additional third (33%) obtain GEDs as their highest level of education in lieu of traditional diplomas.”
Together, these two groups make up the 58% of all formerly incarcerated people whose traditional high school educations were cut short, the study said.
Further, such a low rate of high school completion among formerly incarcerated people adds to the body of evidence that overly punitive disciplinary policies and practices contribute to the criminalization — and ultimately, incarceration — of large numbers of youth, the study continued.
Couloute concluded that the severe educational barriers that formerly incarcerated people face reinforces their broader exclusion from society and harms the social and economic viability of the communities to which they return.
To remedy this exclusion, she said, we need a new, evidence-based policy framework that addresses K-12 schooling, prison education programs, and reentry systems, which would yield measurable economic and public safety rewards.
The Prison Policy Initiative made the following policy recommendations:
Fix K-12 school inequalities, such as those arising out of zero-tolerance disciplinary policies. Students — particularly students of color — should not suffer from a lack of educational resources or overly punitive school policies that funnel them into prisons simply because of the neighborhood in which they live. In order for education to truly be the “great equalizer” it first has to operate equally.
Ensure that incarcerated people have access to robust educational services that prepare them for both higher education and 21st century jobs. Educational opportunities should be conceptualized as a means to begin the reentry process, not as a frivolous “extra.”
States should immediately “ban-the-box” on all applications for admission to state funded colleges and universities. Postsecondary educational institutions should give everyone a fair opportunity to pursue their educational goals, not further punish criminalized people looking to get their lives on track.
Restore Pell Grants to incarcerated people and remove other barriers to financial aid for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. Like public education, Pell Grants and other sources of student aid should be seen as public goods, available to everyone and enhancing both public safety and the social and economic mobility of all people.
In a report issued Tuesday, the Prison Policy Initiative found that people who have been to prison are 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public. The report recommended policy initiatives including the prevention of housing discrimination against returning citizens.
People who have been to prison are 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public, according to a report released Tuesday by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI).
In the report, entitled Nowhere to Go, the PPI found that over two percent of formerly incarcerated people are homeless and that “nearly twice as many are living in precarious housing situations close to homelessness.”
The report, which the PPI said was the first national snapshot of homelessness among formerly incarcerated people, describes the problem of homelessness among formerly incarcerated as a “little-discussed housing and public safety crisis.”
According to the PPI study, written by Lucius Couloute, the increased likjelihood that an individual leaving prison will be homeless is an “irony considering that police departments regularly arrest and jail the homeless.”
Couloute said landlords and public housing authorities “have wide discretion to punish people with criminal records long after their sentences are over.”
His study said the problem was “fixable” through targeted public policy measures, including:
Regulating competitive housing markets to prevent blanket discrimination;
Creating statewide reentry systems to help recently-released Americans find homes;
Ending the criminalization of homelessness in U.S. cities;
Expanding social services for all homeless people, with a “Housing First” approach.
The state has surpassed Louisiana, with an incarceration rate of 1,079 per 100,000 people in 2016, the most recent year when data was available—and since the US already has the world’s highest rate, that pushes it to the top of world rankings, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.
Oklahoma has claimed the title of “the world’s prison capital,” reports the Prison Policy Initiative, surpassing Louisiana as the state with the highest incarceration rate in the country.
According to the report, Oklahoma now incarcerates 1,079 people per 100,000 population, or over 1 percent of the state population in 2016, according to the most recent figures available.
If this number sounds low, bear in mind that it is over 50 percent higher than the national incarceration rate, which stands at 698 incarcerated per 100,000, and that the US itself already significantly outranks every other country on earth.
In “States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2018,” Executive Director Peter Wagner and Senior Policy Analyst Wendy Sawyer find that even so-called “progressive” states such as New York and Massachusetts rely significantly more on prisons and jails to respond to crime than do most nations.
Many of the countries with incarceration rates comparative to the least punitive states are governed by authoritarian regimes, such as Turkmenistan, Thailand, Rwanda, and Russia.
Even countries that experience violent crime at much higher rates than the US utilize incarceration less. Although El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Brazil all have murder rates more than double that of the US, each has an incarceration rate significantly lower than the U.S., in some cases less than half.
The US stacks up even worse compared to democracies with comparable crime rates, with an incarceration rate more than five times larger than that of the United Kingdom, which has the next highest incarceration rate among the founding NATO members.
Wagner and Sawyer say incremental shifts in policy will not be sufficient to bring the U.S. in line with other nations. Only large scale change can allow the “land of the free” to live up to its name, they observe.
The Prison Policy Initiative identifies more than 30 states, including Texas and Michigan, that it says are driving a “gender divide” in imprisonment.
States have made progress over the last 10 years in reducing their prison populations, but as men’s incarceration rates are falling, women’s incarceration rates hover near record highs, reports the Prison Policy Initiative. The advocacy group identifies more than 30 states driving this national “gender divide.” Sixty-two percent of women, are separated from minor children when they are put behind bars. “Few people know what’s happening in their own states,” says Wendy Sawyer, author of “The Gender Divide: Tracking Women’s State Prison Growth.”
Texas has reduced its men’s prison population by 6,000, while backfilling its prisons with 1,100 more women, the group says. Michigan’s female prison population grew 30 percent from 2009 to 2015, while the number of men in Michigan prisons fell by 8 percent. Six other states have seen men’s prison populations decline as women’s inmate populations have climbed. The report includes more than 100 state-specific graphs tracking 40 years of women’s prison growth. It discusses the causes of women’s mass incarceration, including the war on drugs, harsh sentencing for violent offenses, and the growing frequency of women serving jail time. Women in prison are uniquely burdened by mental health problems and trauma. Sawyer contends that most prisons, which were designed for men, “make those problems worse.” The appropriate response, she says, “is not to build better prisons – it’s to ensure women are included in reforms that move people away from prisons.”
According to a joint report released by the Prison Policy Initiative and the ACLU, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.
A study by the Prison Policy Initiative and the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice provides a detailed analysis of women’s incarceration in the United States, highlighting in particular the role of wage disparity in high pretrial detention rates for women.
Since 2014, the Prison Policy Initiative has quantified the number of people incarcerated in the United States, and calculated the breakdown of people held by each correctional system by offense in an annual Whole Pie: Mass Incarceration report.
Overall, there are currently 219,000 women incarcerated in the United States. Incarcerated women are nearly evenly split between state prisons and local jails – 99,000 and 96,000, respectively. State prison systems hold twice as many people as jails when looking at the total incarcerated population.
According to the report, drug and property offenses make up more than half (about 120,000) of the offenses for which women are incarcerated, and violent offenses make up about a quarter (about 54,000).
The authors also found that more than a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial. Moreover, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.
Prison Policy Initiative’s Legal Director Aleks Kajstura believes that the lower income of incarcerated women, relative to incarcerated men, contributes to this data. A previous study by the Prison Policy Initiative found that women who could not make bail had an annual median income of just $11,071. Among those women, Black women had a median annual income of only $9,083 (just 20% that of a white non-incarcerated man). Bail is typically set around $10,000.
However even after conviction, about a quarter of women are held in jails, compared to about 10% of all people incarcerated with a conviction.
Kajstura adds that this figure is troubling, given that over half of all women in U.S. prisons – and 80% of women in jails – are mothers. This makes children susceptible to issues associated with parental incarceration.
A previous report from the Prison Policy Initiative also found that women in jails are more likely to suffer from mental health problems and experience serious psychological distress than either women in prisons or men in either correctional setting.
Furthermore, the “Whole Pie” of incarceration only represents 16% of the roughly 1.4 million women under correctional supervision (75% probation, 9% parole), in contrast to the general incarcerated population where about a third of those under correctional control are in prisons and jails.
According to the report, the unrealistic conditions set by probation undermine its goal of keeping people away from incarceration. Steep fees and meetings with probation officers are standard requirements of the probation system. However, women who cannot afford those fees, babysitters/daycare, or transportation often violate the conditions of probation and are returned to jail.
While more data is needed, this report addresses the policy changes needed to end mass incarceration while considering the unique factors affecting women.
The full report can be read here. This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Brian Edsall. Readers’ comments are welcome.
The pro golfer didn’t have to post bail after his arrest this week on a DUI charge, but individuals who aren’t rich or celebrities are more likely have been shown to a jail cell. Such unequal treatment is a notorious feature of American justice that needs reform, says a report released today by the Prison Policy Initiative.
Tiger Woods spent about eight hours in police custody Monday after he was found asleep and apparently impaired behind the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz on a busy road near his home in Jupiter, Fla.
As a wealthy professional athlete, Woods enjoyed the treatment that the criminal justice system routinely bestows on men and women of standing. He was expeditiously released without bail on a promise to appear in court when summoned.
While Woods walked out the front door, those living on the margins would more likely have been shown to a jail cell.
That dichotomy is the subject of a new analysis published today by the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit. The report calls on state lawmakers to restrain local bail protocols that pack city and county lockups with those who can’t afford to buy freedom.
“Jails are ostensibly locally controlled, but the people held there are generally accused of violating state law,” Aiken writes in the analysis.
“And all too often state policymakers (and state reform advocates) ignore jails.”
Jail populations have tripled since the 1980s, driven up by pre-trial detentions and the subletting of local cells by state and federal authorities, a lucrative side business for sheriffs and other jail administrators in 25 states. In Louisiana, the national leader, more than half of the state prison population is housed in local jails.
About 11 million people churn through the nation’s 3,300 local lockups each year. About 720,000 are confined there at any given time, and about two-thirds of them are detained while awaiting adjudication of their cases because they can’t afford to pay bail.
In an interview with The Crime Report, Aiken said that jail detention can have cascading consequences for those who live on slim economic margins.
“Just a few days in jail can completely destabilize someone’s life,” he said. “People lose their jobs, miss rent payments, can’t coordinate someone to pick up their child after school, and can even lose custody of their children…Even a brief stay in jail can fuel a cycle of incarceration, marginalization and poverty.”
He said jail cells are filled with people already under duress: Two-thirds struggle with substance abuse; about one in six is (or was recently) homeless; more than half are black or Latino, and about one in 12 identifies as LGBT.
Advocates complain that cash bail policies create a bifurcated system—a quick-release track for the wealthy, like Tiger Woods, and a long slog behind bars for the poor.
A person without the means to pay bail or secure a bond in the same circumstances as Woods likely would have been forced to wait days for a court hearing to seek freedom—with no guarantee that a judge would agree.
Judges in many locales are bound by byzantine bail schedules. For example, the document is 135 pages long for Superior Court in San Diego, mandating bail amounts for everything from exceeding the limit of catfish ($25) to first-offense drunken driving ($2,500) to unlawful sale of rhinoceros horn ($5,000).
State legislators are well aware of the criticisms of money-based bail.
Bail policies in cities large and small have been amended in recent years, often prompted by lawsuits. Equal Justice Under Law, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group, has filed bail challenges in nine states that so far have prompted reforms in cities in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri.
New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, among many others, also have changed certain bail protocols to try to reduce jail populations, though none has gone as far as Washington, D.C., which essentially eliminated cash bails more than 20 years ago.
“Many jurisdictions are facing overcrowded local jails, and the drivers of that growth are not increasing crime rates (which remain at historic lows) or more serious crime problems, but the increasing use of local jails to hold (for pretrial) individuals who do not pose a risk to the community and are not a high risk of failure to appear in court—but don’t have the money to get out while they await disposition,” Fishman told The Crime Report by email.
The Shelby County, Ala., jail. Photo by David Krajicek
“Reviewing pretrial decision-making and the impact of cash bail is one of the first steps to identifying how to safely and effectively reduce jail populations.”
Mia Bird, a research fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, noted that the Arnold Foundation is now working with 29 jurisdictions, including the states of Arizona, Kentucky and New Jersey, to expand the use of a risk assessment metric the foundation designed to help judges make informed decisions whether to detain or release a suspect.
Among others, Colorado and Maryland also have introduced bail reforms, and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy is advocating a bail-reform proposal now working its way through that state’s legislative process.
In California, identical bills under consideration in both houses of the legislature would curb the use of bail schedules. The assembly bill may get a floor vote as early as this week.
“Bail reform efforts both in California and Connecticut would take important steps to rein in systems of money bail,” Aiken said. “California’s Bail Reform Act takes a number of significant steps to address the fact that the majority of people in their jails are legally innocent.”
But bail reform failed last year in California, and the 2017 bill is facing full-throated opposition from the bail bond industry, represented by Duane Chapman, who found fame in the “Dog the Bounty Hunter” TV series.
Chapman has appeared at public hearings to oppose reforms, and he is the voice of a fear-inducing robocall placed to 800,000 phone numbers in the state.
“You, the taxpayer, will pay to release these criminals,” Chapman warns. “Car thieves, burglars, sexual predators and repeat offenders will get out of jail with little accountability, and we will not be able to go after them when they run.”
The bail-reform bill’s sponsors say Chapman is using scare tactics on behalf of an industry with a financial interest in maintaining the status quo.
In his analysis, Aiken recommended systematic, statewide reforms that transcend piecemeal localized fixes.
Other recommendations included:
Reclassifying many minor offenses as infractions or citations that do not impose detention;
Diverting offenders with drug, alcohol or mental issues into treatment;
Encouraging judges to use non-monetary sanctions rather than fines and fees;
Initiating state pilot projects to test pretrial programs that offer alternatives to detention.
He also urged state lawmakers to consider whether subletting local jail cells detracts from the mission of city or county law enforcement.
At least 10 percent of those confined to local jails in 25 states are being held under contract for federal or state law enforcement agencies, which pay as much as $100 a day per prisoner.
In Louisiana, 52 percent of the state prison population is held under profit-making contracts with local jails. Parishes have pursued those contracts by building or expanding jails. Aiken also cited a high percentage of jail cell sublets in Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah.
“Contracts with federal and state authorities allow local sheriffs to generate revenue from jails that are rarely filled with ‘traditional jail inmates,’” Aiken wrote.
“Local officials can pad their law enforcement budgets by renting space…Many sheriffs, especially in recent years, have embraced the for-profit business of renting jail space to other authorities.”
David J. Krajicek (@djkrajicek) is a contributing editor with The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.