Over the course of the U.S. prison system’s history, many of the nation’s carceral institutions have been pressured into becoming more or less self-sustaining. This has often been the result of simply not having the budgets, either locally, on the state level or federally, sufficient to fully fund the operation of prisons and jails.
One consequence of this has been that prisons across the nation have been forced to find creative means of generating their own revenues. In many prisons, this has taken the form of inmate vocational programs and such means as providing chain gangs to local governments, in order to perform various types of work.
But another way in which the nation’s carceral institutions have been able to generate significant revenues has been through charging commissions on all outgoing phone calls placed by prisoners. Companies such as Securus Technologies, one of the largest inmate communication firms in the United States, have provided the institutions in which they operate with hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
In the state of Louisiana, for example, Securus Technologies provides the institutions in which it operates with up to 70 percent of all revenues that are generated from phone calls placed on its calling systems. This money is crucial for the adequate funding of ongoing prison operations, including the hiring of additional staff and the provision of sufficient beds to meet the capacity demands brought about by the local inmate population. Even though Securus Technologies is able to provide the institutions in which it operates with tens of millions of dollars a year in Louisiana alone, the company is still able to maintain relatively low rates on all of its outgoing calls. Prisoners using Securus’ system in the state of Louisiana pay approximately $0.15 per minute for outgoing phone calls, on average.