Chil­dren pay the price for costly jail calls

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - Tonyaa Weathers­bee USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – TENN. BRAD VEST/THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL

It’s one thing to make peo­ple pay for their crimes. But it’s quite an­other to make crimes — or al­leged crimes — pay off for oth­ers.

Yet that’s ex­actly what’s hap­pen­ing in Shelby County.

Com­mer­cial Ap­peal re­porter Sarah Macaraeg re­cently re­ported that the county gov­ern­ment receives around $1 mil­lion a year in com­mis­sions from Global Tel, which charges in­mates and their fam­i­lies 10 cents a minute for tele­phone calls. That’s two to three times more than the com­mer­cial rate.

And it’s a cost that peo­ple like Randy Letcher strug­gle to pay af­ter foot­ing other com­mis­sary costs for his 25-year-old daugh­ter, Aleisha, who has been held at the county’s Jail East fa­cil­ity for women since Au­gust await­ing trial on drug pos­ses­sion charges.

Letcher is not alone. Pay­ing for phone calls is a strug­gle for most of the 5,000 or so peo­ple be­ing held in Shelby County’s four de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties. Three of those fa­cil­i­ties house peo­ple who haven’t been con­victed of a crime.

And the fact that a cor­po­ra­tion like Global Tel — which is one of the na­tion’s big­gest pri­son prof­i­teers — is en­rich­ing it­self in the na­tion’s poor­est large metro area raises ques­tions as to whether the county could be­come more vested in prof­it­ing from in­car­cer­a­tion than in cur­tail­ing it. That wouldn’t bode well for the fu­ture. Ac­cord­ing to the cen­sus’ Op­por­tu­nity At­las, which maps the com­mu­ni­ties in which chil­dren are be­ing reared through­out the na­tion, low-in­come par­ents have an in­car­cer­a­tion rate of 4.1 per­cent — which falls into the high­est in­car­cer­a­tion cat­e­gory. Also, a Kids Count study showed that in Ten­nessee, one in 10 chil­dren have a par­ent who is be­hind bars.

Yet nu­mer­ous stud­ies, such as one out of Rut­gers Univer­sity in 2014, show that when par­ents are locked up, chil­dren are trau­ma­tized and hu­mil­i­ated — and the sepa­ra­tion takes a toll on their emo­tional health.

So, imag­ine how the ex­pense of phone calls, along with other com­mis­sary costs, can deepen that trauma for chil­dren who have a par­ent in­car­cer­ated in Shelby County.

Imag­ine how that — piled onto all the other sepa­ra­tion and emo­tional is­sues that im­pov­er­ished chil­dren grap­ple with here — sows more seeds of com­mu­nity dys­func­tion.

Mer­ci­fully, Shelby County Mayor Lee Har­ris and Com­mis­sioner Tami Sawyer are fo­cus­ing on cor­rect­ing that in­jus­tice. As they should.

But what stands out as es­pe­cially egre­gious is that Shelby County is a place where crime and dys­func­tion are driven in large part by poverty and des­per­a­tion. Many peo­ple wind up jailed be­cause when they prey on oth­ers — or are ac­cused of prey­ing on oth­ers by, say, steal­ing or sell­ing drugs — they wind up in jail.

Yet when Global Tel turns around and preys on their des­per­a­tion, they get re­warded for it. As do hedge fund man­agers in New York. As does Shelby County’s gov­ern­ment. And that’s wrong. “All of this is out­side of the scope of the pun­ish­ment fit­ting the crime,” said Aye­sha Bell Har­d­away, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of law at Case Western Re­serve Univer­sity, who has stud­ied in­car­cer­a­tion as a growth in­dus­try.

“A lot of peo­ple who haven’t been found guilty of any crime bear the cost of that … a preda­tory in­cen­tive ex­ists, and if I’m a state that owns a com­plex and I have ac­cess to those site com­mis­sions, I make a wind­fall.”

Of course, there are those who be­lieve that peo­ple who are in­car­cer­ated — even those who are await­ing trial — de­serve their fate. And many do. But cor­po­ra­tions and stock­hold­ers don’t de­serve to en­rich them­selves from it. County gov­ern­ments don’t de­serve to profit from it.

And the chil­dren of those who are in­car­cer­ated, those who tend to be Shelby County’s poor­est, don’t de­served to be pun­ished along with them.

A por­tion of the Shelby County Divi­sion of Correction, more com­monly known as the Pe­nal Farm, is seen on Oct. 25.

Colum­nist Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.