Deaf Inmates and Videophone Petition- Please sign before Friday!

*Please show your support and sign the petition here before Friday the 13th! Thank you very much!*

This was brought to my attention just recently. I intended to post about it last summer, but I decided to hold it until some day and that day is finally here.

On July 10th of 2013 in Washington, D.C., the Federal Communication Commission hosted an all day workshop on reforming prison phone calls. It was headed by acting chairwoman of the FCC, Mignon Clyburn.

At the opening of the workshop, she commented, “The inmates went to prison because they broke laws and they deserved to be punished, so why should we care? We care because of two set of numbers: 700,000 and 2.7 millions.”

We’ll get back to those numbers in a moment, but here is some background information.

Why should we reform prison phone calls and how did all of this get started?

Ten years ago in Washington D.C., a grandmother named Martha Wright got tired of spending hundreds of dollars on monthly phone calls with her grandson in prison. She filed a petition to the FCC about reducing long distance calling rate. After 2003, the calling rates between inmates and their families skyrocketed and tens of thousands of people complained to the FCC. Their response: nothing. In fact, this workshop was their first actual response to the matter in a decade.

To get an idea how expensive a phone call to an inmate can be: 42 states that have limited or no reform on inmate phone calls can charge as high as $4 for just connecting the call on top to their established rate of $.89 per minute. A family of an inmate in a Pennsylvania prison will have to shell out 11 dollars for a 15-minute call.

The folks at the correctional institutions said they are just abiding the security protocols while making outgoing calls outside of the prison.

However, the inmates in the eight states with the reform bill such as New York can have 15-minute call for less than a dollar. How fair is that?

Those eight states with the reform bill still abide proper security protocol while keeping the rate low, proving that it is attainable to maintain secure phone lines without charging the families extra. The independent phone companies working with those states with limited or no reform bill already knew that and yet they still turn a blind eye to make a profit off them.

Of course the legislation doesn’t just sit around doing nothing, but their pathetic efforts to work with the independent phone companies to improve the system ended up worse than a Lifetime Original movie.

Delegate Patrick Hope, a Democrat representative of Virginia, talked about his failed endeavor to introduce a legislation to reform prison phone rates in Virginia, the state that rakes in about $3.5 million in revenue each year from prison phone calls. The reason is self-explanatory.

The next part of the dialogue turns for worse.

Charlie Sullivan of CURE suggested that the FCC should look into Skype technology for prison calls. Talila Lewis of HEARD agreed and emphasized that FCC needs to pay attention to ever-advancing technology that is making communication cheaper or practically free.

Delegate Hope responded that Virginia is already charging for Skype usage in prisons.

The last time I used Skype was last week. It was for a video conference with my seven classmates and it was FREE. With the way the legislation and money-grubbing phone companies are running the business, we are on the express lane back to the Stone Age.

The dialogues in the workshop briefly included a discussion about the issue that hit closer to our home: the deaf inmates.

Lewis said, “A deaf prisoner faces isolation apart from solitary confinement that hearing inmates experience. Deaf prisoners pay higher rates for phone calls.  TTY communication requires at least 4 times as normal vocal communication. A deaf prisoner’s fiance paid $14 for a local phone call. That same call is free for hearing inmates. Affordable and accessible calls for deaf prisoners is a must because: 1. It’s the right thing to do and 2. because the federal laws mandate it.” She’s right, TTY is the outdated technology invented during the Stone Age and no Deaf person I know still use it.

She stressed that providing deaf inmates with videophones is very easy and cost effective. The video relay services provide videophone devices for free. Prisons only need an internet connection. It’s so simple I could cry. Alas, many prisons won’t install videophones in their institutions for the same reason they charge outrageously high rates for their “security protocols” purpose.

So why do we still care? Back to Mignon Clyburn’s numbers: 700,000 and 2.7 millions.

700,000 inmates are released into the general population every year.

Numerous studies demonstrate that having significant contact with people on the other side of the prison walls can promote rehabilitation, reduce recidivism, and strengthen the family and community ties. Most prisons are hundreds of miles away from where inmates’  families live, including myself, so phone calls (beside writing letters) tend to be the only way of keeping in touch.

2.7 millions children in the United States have at least one parent currently incarcerated. 1 in every 28 children (3.6%) has a parent incarcerated, up from 1 in 125 just 25 years ago. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.

Those children are affected. The teachers and school counselors say they do notice the difference in the children’s academic performances and social behaviors and attitudes when compared with those children who do not have a parent in a correctional institute.

Ask any family members or guardians of those affected children and they will agree: Yes, it does affect their relationship with the children and how they take care of them, from an emotional standpoint to a financial one.

Accessible communication is essential because it can be helpful with coping with the anxieties and insecurities of having a parent in prison. The daughters and sons want to talk with their parents, but families suffer economics hardship because they have to pay the high price of calling their imprisoned family members.

The Impact (facts from the Pew Charitable Trusts and Find Youth Info)

• Children of incarcerated parents mourn the loss of their parent.

• Witnessing the arrest of a parent intensifies the child’s loss, sense of helplessness and creates additional trauma.

• Many children of incarcerated parents exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

• Social stigma causes families to avoid discussing the absence of a parent. Being kept in the dark can influence children emotionally and psychologically and impact the restoration of parent‐child relations when the parent in prison is released.

• Literature suggests that parental incarceration can have profound consequences for children including:

*feelings of shame, grief, guilt, abandonment, and anger;

* social stigma;

* disconnection from parent;

* poor school performance;

*impaired ability to cope with future stress and trauma; potential addiction; negative perceptions of police and other authority figures.

• Children with parents in prison need support and there are very few programs and social services specifically designed to serve their complicated and layered needs.

• Approximately half of children with incarcerated parents are under ten years old.

I understand the importance and support for reforming inmate phone calls. It is not only because I desire to keep in contact with Renny- his actions were inexcusable and not entirely forgivable- but I want Liam to have the option of having a connection with his father. I have moved forward. I have written to Renny less often than before and the last time I visited him, it is clear we are in two completely different worlds. However, one day Liam will ask about his father. When that day comes, how am I supposed to answer? He will eventually face the very small Deaf community who will know and ask about his father. It becomes much more complicated.

Liam has a great family support system and positive upbringing. He is thriving so well that perhaps he doesn’t have to have a connection with a father that he doesn’t even know, but I don’t want to be the one to make that decision. He may be too young right now, but after seeing the numerous studies stating that having constant and stable contact with incarcerated parents will help their children cope better in life made me really think. I want to empower Liam so he can stand up for himself. How will he react to the facts about his father? I don’t know. It’s my responsibility to raise him the best I can. Like every other parent, I’m constantly thinking ahead about the stuff that could likely harm him and what can I do to protect him, yet at the same time, allow him to become his own person.

I support reforming inmate phone calls for families in general and especially for those who are improvised or enduring financial hardships. It’s up to each family to decide if it will benefit them to maintain regular contact with their imprisoned family member through phone calls. However, every one of us has the right to keep in touch with our families no matter what or how. If it happens to you, you would want that too.

Please show your support and sign the petition here before Friday the 13th! Thank you very much!

*You can go to these links for more information about the FCC’s actions on the matter and more statistics about the children of incarcerated parents:

HEARD (Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf)

Federal Communications Commission Prioritizes Prison Telephone Reform

Campaign for Prison Phone Justice: Live Blog of the FCC Prison Phones Workshop

Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

International CURE: Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants

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