Saturday, August 20th, 2011 | (Updated for experience after the original writing of the post)
We quickly discovered how expensive it is to make phone calls from prison. An inmate is only allowed to make phone calls that do not exceed 15 minutes at a time. The inmates are further limited to 300 phone call minutes each month. In November and December, the BOP graciously adds an additional 100 minutes to the inmate’s phone account for the holidays.
I’ve never heard a reason why the BOP even limits the calls. Kevin told me that the phones in his unit were always busy during the high peak times around count and in the evening. But, he had plenty of opportunity to call during the day when most inmates were working. Phone calls to home are essential to the inmates keeping in touch with their families.
We always used all our minutes each month. Nearly all our calls were 15 minutes because we had so much to talk about and we missed each other. The BOP charges inmates $0.60 for a 15-minute local call but $3.60 for the same call if it goes to a long-distance phone number. So, the BOP charges 6x more for long distance phone calls. This is price gouging at its worst! Talk about kicking someone when they are down and out. We were looking at $72 per month for phone calls alone.
Solution to High Prison Phone Bills
I knew I would have to go to Verizon to make some changes to our phone plan. We had decided to get a local number on Kevin’s cellphone since he wasn’t using his cellphone. He was still under a 2-year contract so we had to pay the monthly access charges anyway. I changed his old cellphone number to a new number within the zip code of the prison and forwarded Kevin’s cellphone to my phone.
TIP: Don’t go to your local store, but call the customer service line. They were far more efficient and could get the out of state number easier that the local store.
However, this was not a permanent solution because we did not want to keep paying the Verizon line access charges after his contract expired. We ultimately settled on a Google Voice number with a 919-area code. I forwarded the Google Voice line to my cellphone. We used this number for the full-time Kevin was in prison, but …………
The BOP prohibits calls to phones that are forwarded. Fortunately for us though, the Butner phone software was not able to detect that the Google Voice number was forwarded to my phone for nearly all calls during all three years. We were not that fortunate when Kevin was sent to Mecklenburg County jail subsequently. Almost none of the Google Voice calls were forwarded to my phone while he was in Mecklenburg.
We later learned that calls to a Magic Jack number also will not be completed in a federal prison. There are other services available that promise to reduce inmate phone call costs but almost all of them use some technology that are at odds with BOP policy. Google Voice worked the best for us.
The prison inmate phone business is BIG business and the institutions get a cut of the action. As much as the BOP and others may cry about the need for security, it is the money that is driving the policy. Prison phone calls have always been a rip-off, and probably always will be due to the money involved.