A group of 30 criminal justice activist organizations urged New York’s City Council to yank all programs that make money off of people in jail, reports the New York Daily News. Currently, the city collects cash from fees tied to inmate telephone calls, commissary buys, and vending machine purchases.
“The city should be acting to alleviate the economic impacts of incarceration, not exacerbate them through predatory profit-making arrangements with private contractors,” according to a letter from the coalition, signed by groups including the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Fortune Society and Urban Justice Center.
The groups say the city’s coming budget “projects millions in revenues to be generated through exorbitant fees to people in jail and their families.” That arrangement encourages the city to put people, primarily minorities, in jail, the group contends.
“These policies act as a tax that disproportionately affect people of color and are a prime example of the wealth extraction from targeted communities that drives economic inequality – one of the most serious problems facing our city today,” the group says.
It says the New York state prison system does not generate profits from phone calls made by prisoners “leaving ‘liberal’ New York City a step behind on progressive policy-making.”
Advocates say they support Intro 741, sponsored by Speaker Corey Johnson, which would eliminate fees for phone calls from City jails and any revenues the DOC collects on them.
In addition, advocates have objected to calls being recorded and shared with prosecutors without judicial warrants. Community contact is critical to those fighting criminal charges, yet those held pre-trial, the majority of whom are merely unable to pay bail, cannot safely maintain them over the phone, according to a press release.
For the smaller fraction of the population serving city sentences, calls are critical to strengthening the community ties that will help them successfully reenter society and avoid recidivism upon release. Whether a means of equality, efficacy, or dignity, speaking to loved ones should be encouraged not taxed.
“There are still other Department of Corrections revenues generated off incarcerated people and their communities. Asking critical questions of the Department of Corrections and demanding clear answers is the first step toward zeroing out profits generated in City jails and removing the economically perverse incentives that may promote incarceration over community solutions to public safety,” says the release.