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.

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!

Photography by Layfierre Mitchell

On May 29th, when people in Louisville and across the nation marched in protest of the most recent police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, LFJA community photographer Layfierre Mitchell knew it was a historic moment. He “stands behind the movement,” he says, because “he is living the movement” and “some people have to be involved.” On June 23rd, he returned to downtown Louisville to photograph “Injustice Square,” at 6th and Jefferson Street, still being occupied by people demanding justice for Breonna Taylor.

“My pictures are a platform for me to influence how people feel. Pictures are a visual representation of the world.”

May 29th: Downtown Louisville, KY
May 29th: Downtown Louisville, KY

“Having a camera is sharing your experience. When I take pictures I want the camera to show what I saw.”

“When I do photography, I have to think about how my pictures are going to look after I take them. I think that taking my pictures is like giving a gift.”

June 23rd: Injustice Square, Louisville, KY
In commemoration of Breonna Taylor
June 23rd: Injustice Square, Louisville, KY

“When I take pictures of people, I am always thinking about the people seeing the pictures and what they will think of them. That means you have to empathize and put yourself in the place of the viewer.”

Justice, Health and Hope in Two Kentucky Communities: Berea and Louisville

Collaborative Learning Exchange Recap

On the morning following Hasan Davis’ powerful performance of  YORK: Explorer at the Kentucky Center, Louisville Family Justice Advocates and Partners for Education, Berea College gathered for our third of four collaborative learning exchanges.  Participants included teams from Louisville and Berea who work in health, criminal justice and the arts. Some have direct experience with the impact of incarceration.  All are committed to connecting our home communities across the rural/urban divide in our state.

Learning Exchange participants meet on February 5, 2020 in Louisville, KY/Hasan Davis

Hasan co-led this exchange with Dreama Gentry Davis, the Executive Director of Partners for Education. Both served as Children and Family Fellows at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Together, they combined arts-based strategies for energizing creativity with the Casey Foundation’s powerful Results Count framework. Working together, Louisville and Berea participants spent the morning building trust and imagining and mapping  shared strategies for capacity building.

Hasan introduced us to a River of Life art-based exercise that explores the successes and challenges that inform our current place and work. Each of us drew/mapped/graphed/illustrated our own river of life on a large sheet of paper. All designs or depictions were welcomed, and everyone’s river was unique. Drawing our river became a clear and visual way to explore the currents that shape us. Sharing what we drew with each other built trust and unity; especially around the advocacy work all of the participants care so much about.

Participant shares River of Life illustration/Hasan Davis

Building on that trust and unity, Dreama presented an introduction to Casey’s Results Count framework. She challenged us to think harder about the population we are focusing on in our work, asking who is at the heart of the central goal of our organization? You must be clear about the population you are serving to build the results you want. Through careful clarifications, it became clear that our focus is children and their families with incarcerated loved ones in our community. In other words, children are at the heart of LFJA as an organization.

While building results-oriented leaders to carry out our goals, Dreama pointed to the importance of recognizing that we all operate at three different levels in our social change work: individual, role, and system. The River of Life exercise helped us understand our individual motivations and values. Next, we discussed the importance of being aware of what role we are playing, or in other words, what hat we are wearing, in any given interaction. Are we speaking as a friend, co-worker or advocate? Likewise, it is important to be clear on what system we are trying to change. For example, the criminal justice system, encompasses policing, judicial decision making, incarceration, and re-entry. 

And this artmaking and results-thinking happened all in one three-hour session! We all left more inspired and informed than when we arrived.

We witnessed: the power of art to express our deepest feeling; the importance of building trust and working in collaboration; and the importance of being clear about our role and impact at the system level. This session lived up to the title of our Collaborative Learning Exchange about justice, health and hope in each of our two communities in Kentucky.