The children of Robert Richardson in Louisiana tell their inmate father about their lives 15 minutes at a time. How much they talk depends on how many 15-minute intervals the family can afford. the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports in the continuation of its series on how mass incarceration affects families. The phone bill of Richardson’s wife, Sibil, from Securus Technologies shows a $2.31 charge for every 15 minutes her family spends on the phone with her husband, who is serving a 60-year sentence at the Louisiana State Penitentiary for bank robbery. To keep Robert Richardson in the lives of the couple’s six kids, she pays anywhere from $260 to $450 a month.
Phone calls are often the only way children can maintain regular contact with an incarcerated parent, given the hundreds of miles separating some families from their loved ones in prison. The benefits of these calls go well beyond the families, experts say, to broader areas of public safety, public health and public dollars. They help children cope with the upheaval that follows the loss of a parent to prison, the trauma of which can lead them down the same path that put the parent in jail. Louisiana families spend millions of dollars every year to stay connected with their loved ones in the state’s prisons and parish jails. The money generated by the families’ calls is divided between telephone service providers and correctional facility operators, who are paid through commission fees. Those fees, ranging in Louisiana from 34 percent to 87 percent of phone revenue, can be used at the discretion of sheriffs and government leaders. In 2015, commission payments generated nearly $5 million for the state’s Department of Corrections and $6 million-plus to sheriff’s offices and parish governments across Louisiana.