Families Before Profits: Research & Action

Artwork by Layfierre Mitchell

Free Telephone and Video Calls

Research demonstrates that regular contact is crucial to an incarcerated person’s mental health during confinement, as well as their ability to successfully reintegrate upon release. Providing free telephone calls is not a solution to over-incarceration, but is a key to maintaining contact with families and friends. (Learn more: The Hill: Importance of ongoing contact for prisoners). 

Current costs of telephone calls and projected costs for video calls set by Securus Technologies, a multi-billion dollar for-profit corporation, are unfair and prohibitive for families. Locally and nationally, the high costs of prison and jail phone calls drive families and friends into debt. (Learn more: When Phone Calls Send Families Into Debt). 

Monthly call volume records obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting show Securus collected $1.6 million in revenue from phone calls in the Louisville jail during 2020. (Learn more: Phone Calls Still Won’t Be Free When Louisville Jail Gives Up Profit)

No Digitizing Mail for Surveillance

A new money-making mode now being proposed by Securus is the digitization of mail to confined people. Letters and photos sent to prisoners would be converted to email for surveillance purposes. Written correspondence is more important now than ever with the cessation of all visiting, and the only alternative for families and friends who cannot afford the cost of phone calls. Moreover, a large percentage of people in the Louisville Jail are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of any charge, so should not be subject to surveillance. (Learn more: Slate: Prisons Are Increasingly Banning Physical Mail).

In-Person Visiting As Soon As Safely Possible

From 2008 through March 2020, LFJA’s Special Project Team created art with families in the video lobby in the main jail complex each week. During that time, with no in-person visiting opportunities available, families often waited 2-3 hours for a 20-minute video monitor session. The Special Project Team witnessed 50-100 (and sometimes more) caregivers and children enduring long waits in the basement of the Hall of Justice to see their loved ones during the weekly two-hour artmaking activities.

Families and friends want and deserve in-person contact with their incarcerated loved ones. Research shows that strong family and social connections are important keys to successful re-entry for the person who is incarcerated, and make a difference for the well-being of their loved ones, especially children.

Be The Change You Want to See! 

Metro Council took a big step forward in June by approving the 2021-22 Metro Budget with the requirement that the LMDC discontinue generating revenue from phone calls after December 31st. Now, LMDC and Metro Council can go beyond banning revenue from phone calls and begin creating system changes in communications that recognize the health and well-being of people and families impacted by incarceration.

Now is the time to break the silence, change the narrative, and engage your neighbors, friends, faith and justice communities, and elected officials in re-thinking incarceration in our city. The conditions in our jail can be changed because it is under local jurisdictions. Here’s how:

  • LMDC’s current phone contract expires in January 2022. The terms of any new communications contracts should include a public comment period before the contract is approved.
  • Contact your elected Metro Council member: Email a Council Member | LouisvilleKY.gov. Let them know you support families over profit and safe and healthy communications between incarcerated people and their loved ones.
  • Community-based nonprofits and service organizations can support families with incarcerated loved ones by providing physical and mental health care, basic needs, educational supplies, peer mentoring and job opportunities.

Ten Reasons Why Phone Calls From Jail Should Be Free

1. Recognizing and honoring our collective humanity is the right thing to do.

2. Maintaining family connections supports health and wellbeing for both children and their incarcerated loved ones.

3. Strong family connections support successful re-entry when loved ones return home.

4. Staying connected with loved ones reduces children’s stress levels.

5.  It is a basic human right. Children have the right to connect with their parent by phone or video.” -Dr. Julia Richerson

6. “The members of the National Council of Jewish Women-Louisville Section through our Court Watch Program have seen first hand the impact on children when they are separated from a parent.” -From the letter of support from National Council of Jewish Women-Louisville

7. Putting families first creates stronger communities.

8. Louisville Metro Department of Corrections should not profiteer from phone calls to families.

The Louisville Metro Budget for 2020-21 approved LMDC to collect $633,600 from “Inmate Telephone Fees.” These fees come from the $9.99 LMDC charges for a 15-minute collect call per person inside the jail.

(Source: https://louisvilleky.gov/sites/default/files/management_budget/fy21/2020-2021_louisville_metro_approved_detail_budget.pdf)

9. Louisville Metro taxpayers deserve full disclosure of LMDC’s recent contract with for-profit international company, Global Tel Link.

10. Our children are our future.

Humanity, Transparency, and Accountability

Demanding action from Louisville Metro Department of Corrections

On October 5th, LFJA Board members, Special Project art activity leaders and community advocates wrote a letter to the Director and Assistant Director of Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC). With video visiting suspended since March 13th and no consistent public information concerning COVID-19 cases inside the jail, we called on LMDC to take three simple and humane actions for families with incarcerated loved ones in Louisville’s Main Jail Complex:

  1. Provide at least two (2) free phone calls per week to people inside the Jail until visiting is reinstated. The current cost of collect calls to cellular phones from the Jail is an exorbitant amount of $9.99 for a 15-minute call. This fee includes a commission for LMDC.
  2. Post weekly information about the number of cases and health protocols for COVID-19 cases inside the Jail.
  3. Establish public guidelines for timing and conditions to resume video visiting, or create a new alternative.

The letter called for LMDC leaders to respond by October 13th, the date marking seven months with no video contact options for families. The Jail leaders chose not to acknowledge or reply to these common sense calls for action, adding lack of transparency and public accountability to the lack of basic humanity in the face of the pain and suffering especially affecting poor Black and Brown people disproportionately confined in the Jail.

SO NOW WE NEED YOU TO JOIN OUR CALL TO ACTION!

Here are four ways you can support our work:

  1. Watch our virtual forum on Prison Phone Justice and hear the voices of directly impacted community members, including:
    • Chef Nikkia Rhodes points out how the high cost of phone calls unfairly punishes children and families who committed no crimes.
    • LaTonya MacNeal, a recovery worker, says, “a phone call can be a matter of life or death.”
    • Aaron Bentley, a civil rights attorney, explains how a person being held Pre-Trial and cannot pay cash bail are is less likely to be able to access a free attorney call.
  2. Learn how Prison Phone calls are part of the global for-profit Prison Industrial Complex now dominated by two international corporations. Research how local jails, including LMDC, get “commissions” on each call. 
  3. Sign your name and circulate this petition to engage more people in this important call to action for humanity, transparency, and accountability by Louisville Metro Department of Corrections.
  4. Email LFJA at louisvillefamilyjusticeadvocates@gmail.com if you or a group would like to create an additional separate letter of support like this one that focuses on children’s health.

Why Prison Phone Justice? Why Now?

There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives…Our struggles are particular, but we are not alone.

-Audre Lorde

For more than a decade, advocates for Prison Phone Justice across our country have called for the abolition of for-profit exorbitant rates for phone calls made from prisons and jails. 

Now, the intertwined pandemics in public health and racial injustice reveal how Prison Phone Justice is embedded in racial justice and health equity as an important component of public safety and wellness in our community.     

Prison Phone Justice sees and affirms the full humanity of incarcerated people. People don’t stop being parents, siblings, grandparents or friends because they are incarcerated. Because of systemic racial disparities in who is incarcerated in Louisville, denying video visiting and charging high costs for phone calls inflicts more harm on Black, Brown and poor people, and their families, friends and advocates.

Prison Phone Justice respects people directly impacted by incarceration and learns from their knowledge and stories. Personal stories, like Chef Nikkia Rhodes’ loving memories of her father, challenge unspoken assumptions that incarcerated people do not have caring connections. Denying access to free visual and spoken contact with families, friends and legal advisors is racially unjust, economically unfair and harmful to the health and wellbeing of our community. 

Addressing the immediate needs of currently incarcerated community members connects Prison Phone Justice to the transformative work of challenging injustice and creating safer and healthier systems for our whole community. The presence of COVID-19 inside the jail makes free and accessible communication to friends and loved ones more urgent and necessary now. In this important time of change, every individual and collective action to enact justice makes a difference because, as Audre Lorde points out, we are all connected.  

Please join the call and participate in the LFJA Virtual Forum on Wednesday, October 7th from 5:30 – 6:00pm to learn more about Prison Phone Justice, hear from folks directly impacted, and what you can do about it!

LFJA always welcomes and depends on your suggestions, ideas, concerns, questions, and needs. 

Family Justice is More Important Now Than Ever

In mid-March, the video visiting lobby at the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections closed, understandably, because of COVID-19. Yet, now five months later, there is still no alternative for families to visually see their incarcerated loved ones and no information about when video visiting can resume.

On August 6th the Courier-Journal reported 124 incarcerated persons tested positive for COVID-19. If you have not had an incarcerated loved one, imagine how families would feel hearing this news and knowing that social distancing is impossible in the jail. All families in Louisville should have access to vital health information concerning their loved ones, especially now and especially for those being detained by Louisville Metro Government.

And it is more important now than ever to recognize that racial disparities in policing and judging mean significant and now life threatening health disparities in those who are in danger in jail.

Kentucky now has the 3rd highest rate in the nation (12%) of children experiencing incarceration. LFJA recently joined with Partners for Education, at Berea College, and Hasan Davis, performance artist and former KY Commissioner of Juvenile Justice, in an Urban and Rural Learning Exchange about the impact of parental incarceration on children and families in our communities. One thing we learned is Family justice,  including visiting and phone calls, are more important now than ever!