Almost 1% of the US population is incarcerated. That means that millions and millions of friends, family members, and legal aids are on the outside trying to make contact with an inmate.
Calling an inmate isn't quite as simple as you might think. In fact, the short answer is that you can't call an inmate at all. Prison phone calls must be outgoing, which means that you have to wait for an inmate to call you.
Even still, this process isn't as simple as your friend or loved one picking up the phone and giving you a call. It requires coordination and cooperation between you, the prison staff, and the inmate in question, much like visiting an inmate in prison.
What should you expect when getting in contact with an inmate? What steps do you need to take? Read on to find out.
Is the Inmate Still Going Through the Intake Process?
Prison is supposed to be built on a rehabilitative model. In order to come closer to achieving the goals of this model, the intake process has become longer and more thorough. The objective is to understand an individual's "criminogenic factors" and providing them with the sentence that is best suited to them.
During the intake process, inmates undergo mental, physical, and psychological evaluations. A panel of staff members then determines a permanent placement and treatment program for the inmate. This can take a few days or it can last several weeks.
Why is this pertinent information? During the intake process, inmates have extremely limited rights. That means that until the intake process is complete, they cannot receive visitors, receive or send mail, or make phone calls. In other words, you will not be able to get in contact with an inmate until the intake process is complete--and again, this may take several weeks.
After the Intake: How Calling an Inmate Works
As we mentioned earlier, inmates cannot receive incoming calls. Unfortunately, you also can't call the staff at a prison and ask them to take and deliver a message to an inmate on your behalf. Instead, inmates must place outgoing calls to you if you want to talk to them on the phone.
How does this process work? What should you do to ensure that you receive calls from your friend or loved one? Read on to find out.
When Can Inmates Place Calls?
Inmates cannot place calls at any time of day. There are set times when phone calls are allowed, usually between 8 am and 11 pm. This is especially important to keep in mind if you live in a different time zone.
Oftentimes, you won't know exactly when to expect a call.
What Phone Can They Call to Reach You?
The standard inmate phone system relies on collect calls. If this is the system your friend or loved one has to use, you will not be able to take their calls on a cellphone. This is because cellphones can't receive collect calls.
Many prisons are adopting a new system that allows inmates to set up prepaid call accounts. Securus, Global Tel Link, IC Solutions, and other third parties provide these plans. It is still best to provide a landline or home phone number for your friend or loved one to use when calling you.
How Can You Become Eligible to Receive Calls?
It is important to know what facility your friend or loved one has been sentenced to. You can find an inmate here.
Many facilities require inmates to create an approved list of numbers that the inmate may call. Oftentimes, inmates are asked to submit a list of numbers during the intake process. This requires them to rely on phone numbers they have memorized.
If your friend or loved one doesn't know your number by heart, don't sweat it. They can add new numbers to their approved list of numbers later. Consider sending them your phone number in a letter or giving it to them during your next visit.
How Can You Troubleshoot Issues With Inmate Phone Calls?
Are you having trouble receiving phone calls from your friend or loved one? Do you know already that you're on their approved list of numbers and that they're trying to reach you?
If the calls aren't coming through, check your phone's settings. Make sure that you don't have collect calls disabled or blocked.
If the calls drop on a regular basis, this can also have something to do with your phone's settings. If your phone allows three-way calling or has the call waiting feature turned on, you may want to turn them off. Call waiting, in particular, will force the call from your friend or loved one to drop and they may not be able to call you back right away.
How Can You Reduce the Cost of Inmate Calls?
There are two easy ways to reduce the cost of inmate calls if the charges are becoming too high.
The first is to keep calls short. While the government has imposed maximum fees for some collect calls from prisons, the cost can still add up quickly.
We recommend writing down a list of questions you have or things you want to say. That way, you can get to the most important things you need to talk about without using up too much time.
The second is to encourage our friend or loved one to make fewer calls and talking longer if necessary, rather than placing multiple calls a day. Each call comes with a connection fee, and the connection fees will add up faster than the rate per minute.
Another option is to establish a number that is local to the prison where your friend or loved in is incarcerated. Long-distance calls cost far more than local calls.
Factors That Can Deter an Inmate From Placing a Call
Sometimes, the troubleshooting tips we shared above won't do the trick. In some cases, more specific events or circumstances happening in an inmate's life can prevent them from placing a call. Let's take a quick look at what they are and what to do about them.
Lockdowns or Individual Restrictions
If the institution is on lockdown, all or most inmates will not be able to make calls. These restrictions are lifted when lockdown is over.
In some cases, an inmate may receive individual restrictions if they commit rule infractions. This may also impede your ability to visit them or send them mail. These restrictions will lift after a specified amount of time, although you likely won't know when that will occur.
Low Funds for Telephone Calls
If your friend or loved one uses a prepaid phone account, they may not be able to make calls to you when their funds are low. You may be able to supplement their telephone funds by putting money into their commissary account.
Some prisons may allow inmates to make collect calls when they are unable to afford a prepaid phone account. In this case, prepare to take on those fees, yourself. If possible, it can be ideal to provide money for their prepaid account instead of accepting collect calls, as the fees are often cheaper for a prepaid account.
Just like your home can experience power outages, so can prisons and jails. Severe weather is among the factors that may knock out a prison's power for several hours or even days.
Do you think that a power outage may be the reason for a missed call? You can verify that by looking up the institution or the area it is located in. Check for severe weather or power lines and grids that have gone down temporarily.
Restricted Call Lists
As we mentioned earlier, it is possible that you are not on your friend or loved one's approved number list. If you have yet to receive any calls from them since their sentence started, this may be the case.
If, at any time, you get a new phone number, make sure to let your friend or loved one know. They will need to submit this new number for approval in order to keep contacting you on the phone.
Let Us Help You Find and Contact an Inmate
Millions of people are currently incarcerated, which means that millions more are hoping to get in contact with someone on the inside. Calling an inmate isn't as simple as picking up the phone and dialing a number. We hope that our guide has shed light on the process of receiving prison phone calls.
Do you have more questions about how to find or reach an inmate? Take a look at our blog for helpful information or contact us to ask us your questions, directly. Our goal is to help you stay connected to your friends and loved ones who are currently incarcerated.