One of the most vital things that loved ones of someone in prison can do is be open to maintaining communication with the inmate. Staying in contact with a prisoner – through writing letters, visitation, and also on the phone – will make a world of difference for the inmate in many ways.
What are the benefits of maintaining phone communication with a loved one in prison? For the inmate, it provides something meaningful for them to do. While in prison many inmates have jobs, go to classes, and have recreational activities, contact with loved ones is a major channel to the outside world.
It is beneficial for both their emotional and mental state to know what is happening in the lives of those they love. For prisoners who will be released one day, staying up-to-date will make re-entry easier.
In addition, rights such as telephone use can be taken away when a prisoner is out-of-line, unruly, or disruptive. If an inmate is incentivized to be able to talk to their loved ones, they may try to keep their record clean. Plus, encouragement and support from those they love outside of prison can help put things in perspective, as prison can be a bubble.
As is the case with communicating in general with an inmate, staying in contact by telephone is not a simple process and involves work to be done on both the inmate and loved ones’ ends to make it happen. The telephone system offers several options for receiving and paying for calls, and there are also important things to know in order to make these calls happen.
How to Call an Inmate
The first thing to know is that inmates cannot receive incoming calls – only the inmate can make a call to you. Loved ones should not call the facility and ask the staff to relay a message to their inmate. If family and friends follow the correct process, they will know clearly how to talk by telephone with their loved one.
How to Receive Calls from an Inmate
Since loved ones cannot call an inmate – only inmates can make calls – family and friends are at the receiving end of telephone communication with an inmate. Despite this, loved ones must be diligent in making sure that everything has been put into place in order to receive a call. To receive calls from an inmate, there are several things to keep in mind.
Does the inmate have my number?
Thanks to modern-day technology, memorizing phone numbers is not as common as it once was. When an inmate is admitted, they may not remember the phone numbers of loved ones, making calling them seem like an impossible task.
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be! For a loved inmate who is first admitted into prison, family and friends can write to them listing all the phone number they will need. Use the inmate locator (INSERT LINK) for the facility where your loved one is held to find their registration number, or call the facility to make sure your inmate has been processed and to find out mailing instructions.
Am I on the inmate’s approved list?
At some facilities, when an inmate is processed, they must put names on a caller list that will then be approved for telephone calls. In some cases, administration will reach out to family and friends to confirm their phone number and identity. Phone numbers can be added after intake if need be.
Only an inmate can add someone to the approved calls list – family and friends cannot request to be added.
There is sometimes a limit to the number of people that can be on an inmate’s approved call list, such as twenty people. Keep this in mind when communicating with the inmate, as they can be strategic and add new names to the list as they see the need for different people to be on it.
Do I have the right type of phone?
Traditionally, calls from prison are collect calls, meaning that the loved one being called may be charged for time on the phone. Collect calls from prison cannot be made to cell phones, office phones, Google or other computer numbers, and sometimes international numbers. To receive a collect call, the number your inmate is calling must go to a landline.
However, there are prepaid account options that family and friends can sign up for so that the inmate can call a cell phone.
Set up a prepaid account/Putting money on an inmate’s phone service
Most facilities will partner with a phone service provider through which family and friends can make an account to pay by credit/debit (commonly Global Tel Link or Securus Technologies.) Find out from your inmate’s particular facility which company they partner with.
Inmates cannot choose which company they want to use. Keep in mind that it may take several days to weeks after setting up an account with one of these companies for it to be activated.
There are a few options for paying for calls. One is direct billing, where you will receive a bill after calls have been completed with an inmate. The benefit to this is that you will be paying only for calls that have been made to you. Those who choose this option should make sure to track how long their conversations go and how often so as to not receive a hefty bill.
The second option for funding calls is by putting funds into a prepaid account or putting money into the inmate’s commissary account. The inmate can use the money from the commissary account to fund their phone plan. Either way, when the funds are depleted, inmates cannot make more calls until the accounts are refilled.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been working to lower high fees for inter-state calls, as sometimes the costs for these calls are very high. Charges for in-state long distance or local calls are 21 cents a minute for debit/prepaid calls and 25 cents a minute for collect calls.
When an inmate calls
Most facilities have a strict calling schedule and your inmate will only be able to call within a certain time range. Try to obtain this schedule from the inmate through a letter. While it is convenient to know your inmate’s call schedule so you can plan around it, keep in mind that this is subject to change.
Sometimes the incoming call will have a blocked or unfamiliar number. When answered, you will often be greeted with an automated message informing you that it is a call from the facility. You may have to accept the call by pressing a button.
There is a time limit to a call – sometimes fifteen or thirty minutes. Be sure to use your time wisely, intentionally updating your inmate with news from home or important information. Inmates may have a limit on the amount of time they can be on the phone in a month.
Tips for safe and cost-efficient calls
Many phone calls made from prison will be monitored. Try to refrain from discussing the inmate’s crime, as that conversation could be used as evidence.
International and long-distance calls can incur very high fees. If you have a phone number that is local to the institution, this may lower the cost of the calls.