County jails in New York state outside of New York City charge $50 million in fees to incarcerated people each year for phone calls, commissary products and disciplinary tickets, says a report from the nonprofit Worth Rises and the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. The groups calculated the figure by extrapolating data obtained in Freedom of Information Law requests from 19 counties, the Wall Street Journal reports. The findings illustrate financial challenges faced by jail inmates, most of whom have not been convicted, said Katie Schaffer, a consultant with the nonprofit Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. “What this represents is a wealth extraction from the communities and families that are least able to afford it,” she said.
Peter Kehoe of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association said the report doesn’t take into account costs associated with running jails. Jails face costs for providing phone service and commissary stores that don’t exist in typical settings. Jails typically provide armed guards for stores and phone banks and monitor calls made by inmates for security reasons. “It’s not reasonable to expect that making a call in jail would cost the same as making a call at home,” he said. Schaffer said most people made calls to family members or to people connected to their cases. Because people held in jails don’t have a way to earn money while incarcerated, their families often end up paying for their phone calls. People jailed in Albany spent a total of $843,953 on phone calls in 2017, with an average cost of $122 for each inmate for each month of incarceration.