Understanding Inmate Calling Plans

Most jails and prison contract with third party vendors to provide a way for inmates to call their friends and families. Some of those companies only have one choice, but many of them provide a few options when you open and fund the account.

Understanding what the different choices are will help you make a decision that is right for you.

Purpose of Prepaid Inmate Account

While a lot of jails allow inmates to make collect calls, the method is expensive and inconvenient. Some phone companies block all calls from penal facilities. Others want customers to pay sizable cash deposits before they are allowed to accept the first call. Cell phone companies universally don’t accept collect calls, which means if you are out and about or you don’t have a land line, your inmate cannot reach you.

Prepaid inmate phone accounts are designed to correct these issues and give your inmate more access to the outside world by having a fund set up that is prepaid, much like a prepaid cell phone company works.

The benefits of an inmate prepaid account include:
• The ability to control what you are spending receiving phone calls from the inmate.

  • Giving the inmate a sense of connection to the outside world.
  • The ability to accept calls wherever you have your cell phone, which means if your inmate really needs to talk to you, you are accessible.

The FCC is working to reduce high inmate calling rates

Types of Plans:

Choice One

Many third party inmate phone call providers offer you two choices in the way you set it up.

In one choice, you register your account and during that registration you pick a phone number that the inmate will be allowed to call using the funds you deposit to the account. That phone number will be the only number he or she can call.

The advantage of this plan is that you have control over who the inmate calls. Because you can only attach one phone number to the account, every time the inmate makes a call, it automatically dials the number you provided. This doesn’t mean that others can’t speak to the inmate by phone. You can give access to your phone to others so they can answer and press the proper key to accept the call. If you aren’t going to be available you can have another friend or family member hold onto your phone and talk with the inmate when he or she calls.

The disadvantage is that the inmate can only call the one phone number you set the account up with. This means that if anybody else wants to talk with the inmate by phone and are not going to be near your phone to do so, they will have to set up a separate account and attach it to their own phone. They must fund it before calls can come through. This can be inconvenient if the inmate only needs to speak to the person once or twice. Most companies have a minimum deposit amount.

Choice Two

This plan also requires that you register an account, but once you deposit funds to it, the inmate can use the money to call any number he or she wishes to call. This account works well for inmates who have large families, or they wish to call their parents as well as siblings who live in different states. You do not have control over the funds once they are deposited. This means if your inmate spends all of your budgeted money for calls by calling someone other than you, then you must deposit more funds before you can receive the call.

Unlike the first choice, where you choose one number that can be called, this account will let the inmate direct dial anyone in the country. Some jails do restrict this by having an approved list of phone numbers that the inmate can call.

You and your inmate can discuss how many calls per week the funds will pay for and whether you want to be one of those calls each week. Some families share the cost of funding the account so that the inmate can call several different people, without having to deal with several different accounts.

NOTE: It is probably best to start out with minimal funding in the phone account until you see how well the inmate does with it. This way, if he or she blows through the entire budget immediately calling everyone in the world but you, you won’t be out a lot of money and can easily make the next deposit a switch to choice one.

The frequency with which you have phone conversations with your inmate could have an effect on recidivism.

It’s Your Choice

In the end, only you can decide which type of account you want to provide for your inmate. If he is able to budget well and would like to talk to others, choice two might be the best. For the inmate who is impulsive or for the family on a very tight budget, the first option provides some control over the account and ensures you will get phone calls.

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writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.