Those currently incarcerated are among the most vulnerable of our population when it comes to COVID-19, as the crowded living conditions make them far more susceptible to catching the disease. Exorbitant calling fees have also made it harder for inmates to check in on their loved ones during these trying times. At least, they did.
Politico reports that the Federal Bureau of Prisons is making calls and video visitation free for inmates. This comes after they had to put a stop to in-person visits. Last month, a group of senators led by Amy Klobuchar wrote a letter encouraging bureau Director Michael Carvajal to waive the often high fees that come with inmates trying to call their families. “Effective April 9, 2020, telephone calls were made free for the inmate population. Video-visiting, which is available to our female population, was also made free on that same date,” Carvajal wrote in response.
Last month’s $2.2 trillion relief package from Congress included language, with the Justice Department’s blessing, allowing the bureau to make such communication services free for inmates if emergency conditions materially affect operations. Carvajal’s letter confirmed that it had done so.
The price inmates have to pay to contact their families has long been a concern for advocacy groups. “Inmates are still required to pay as much as 25 cents per minute in addition to fees charged each call,” wrote the senators in their letter. Given that inmates now have no ability to see their families in person, those concerns only intensified.
At a time where staying in contact with loved ones is both a balm and a necessity, it’s great that the Bureau did the right thing here. There are 122 prisons under federal oversight.