A phone call is the only way that most of the 2.2 million incarcerated people across the United States can contact family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic, as thousands of prisons and jails ban visitors. Yet too often, local and county jails impose onerous charges on phone calls and mark up prices in jail stores, or commissary. The San Francisco Financial Justice Project estimates that 80% of local jail phone calls were paid for by incarcerated people’s loved ones, primarily low-income women of color. The consequences of these charges extend far beyond incarcerated people, stripping the savings and resources of entire families.
This is a solvable problem. In August 2020, San Francisco became the first in the nation to put people over profits — making jail phone calls free and ending the markup of commissary items in the jail store. Local advocates and people directly impacted by the criminal justice system led the charge for these reforms, and as phone justice proposals advance across the country and at the federal level, other localities can do the same.
Policy leaders, policy researchers, and criminal justice advocates benefitted by learning:
- Why phone justice proposals are advancing at local and federal levels, and how they are a component of an equitable criminal justice policy
- The results of a 700-person survey of incarcerated people in San Francisco County Jails, and what lessons other municipalities can learn about the survey design and implementation
- What steps advocates, policymakers, and people directly impacted by the criminal justice system can take to build coalitions to advance these reforms
- Paul Briley, Regional Chapter Coordinator, All of Us or None
- Amika Mota, Policy Director, Young Women’s Freedom Center
- Valentina Sedeno, Program Manager, Young Community Developers
- Anne Stuhldreher, Director, San Francisco Financial Justice Project, Fellow, Aspen Institute Financial Security Program
- Bianca Tylek, Founder and Executive Director, Worth Rises
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How can cities and counties implement racially equitable reforms for incarcerated people? Start by putting people over profits and make jail phone calls free. Join @AspenFSP and @FairFinesFees on 2/23 for more phone justice proposals.
- “Set up to Fail: Fines, Fees, & Financial Insecurity” by AFN and Aspen FSP, Dec. 2020
- “Centering the Margins: A Framework and Practices for Person-Centered Financial Security Policy” by Aspen FSP, Dec. 2020
- Op-Ed: When jails make money off phone calls, society pays by Anne Stuhldreher, April 2020