There’s money to be made in the prison business and that creates even more misery for the families of those behind bars.
Toya Woodland says people like herself who have family members behind bars in Minnesota have spent up to $300 a week just to talk to them on the phone. That’s because prison phone systems have been privatized and corporations have been able to charge many times more than regular phone services rates for the calls. Woodland says while her husband was in jail she had to take out high interest payday loans just to afford to talk to him.
Woodland’s husband is a military veteran who developed a drug habit while in the service. She says once he left the military he turned to a life “petty” crime and theft to support his habit, which led him to prison.
“A lot of our veterans end up in jail based on addictions they develop while they’re serving the United States of America.”
The Federal Communications Commission recently cracked down on companies such as Securus which provides the service to prisoners at the Ramsey County Detention Center. The FCC ordered Securus and other prison phone companies to cap their rates. While lower than what they charged before, the capped rates are still about 10 times higher per minute than most providers and the companies can still charge extra fees that can send the phone bills soaring.
Prayer Vigil For Human Dignity In Prisons
Woodland was part of a vigil the religious group ISAIAH held outside the Ramsey County Detention Center this weekend to draw attention to how the privatization of prisons is inflicting more misery on people and contributing to the cycle of poverty, crime and recidivism that keeps a disproportionate number of minorities behind bars. About 360 people gathered and prayed.
ISAIAH says Ramsey County makes money from the federal government by holding inmates for the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrants.
ISAIAH sees that as wrong and believes Minnesota’s incarceration system ought to promote the values of human dignity and profoundly embrace immigrants.
“There is no better way for us to act on the Pope’s call for human dignity and inclusion than to stand in public solidarity with those separated from their family members and in misery behind bars,” said ISAIAH organizer Catalina Morales.
Under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, last year Ramsey County stopped honoring requests from ICE to hold prisoners for an additional 48 hours while the agency considered whether to deport them. Ramsey County continues to hold detainees but only where there is a judicial order or criminal probable cause.
Woodland’s husband has been released, but she says “Instead of helping him as a veteran, instead of giving him the treatment he needed, it was more beneficial for them (the corrections system and the state of Minnesota) to incarcerate him and separate his family.”
“There’s nothing offered to the inmates for them to have a better life.”
“I would like to see change where families can be rebuilt,” says Woodland. “They can be put together. There can be job training and we don’t have to go to the payday lending sources.”
The vigil was part of “40 Days of Faithful Action”, a campaign led by PICO National Network (which ISAIAH is a local affiliate) to end mass incarceration and the private prison industry which detain immigrants for ICE and profit from incarceration and detention.