02 March, 2022

By Restricting Communication, the Missouri DOC Claims It's "Helping" the Prison Population

In an e-mail blast to prisoners' tablets, the Missouri Department of Corrections feigned concern for our best interests by announcing that, effective 14 March, all inmate phone calls will be limited to fifteen minutes. "After 15 minutes, your call will be disconnected," it read. "After a 3-hour time period, you will again be able to make a 15-minute call."

This is just another in a long line of examples of the Department inflicting punitive measures on a group because of the bad behavior of a few. In my sixteen years at Crossroads, before I came to ERDCC, we almost never saw arguments or fights over telephone use. The good-conduct wing at Crossroads wasn't much different from the one I'm in now, except we had six phones to share, not the usual four. Here at ERDCC, the number of phones is one-size-fits-all affair. For years, people here have been asking for extra phones to be installed in the housing units. The institution's answer was either that this was a provider issue or that a feasibility study would have to be done. In other words, "We don't give a shit. Go lie down somewhere."

The Department absolutely should care. This new call limit widens the distance between prisoners and their loved ones. Studies show that such gaps adversely affect rehabilitation efforts. I don't know what kind of conversations the people who thought up this practice are accustomed to having, but a fifteen-minute limit will severely obstruct sustained dialog, which is exactly the kind of deep, meaningful exchange that keeps human connections healthy and strong.

Even after all this time, the half-hour phone conversations I have feel uncomfortably brief. When my loved ones and I get deep into ethics, philosophy, feelings, or matters relating to my case, even forty-five minutes seems too brief. I always keep an eye on the phone line, to ensure no one has to wait longer than fifteen minutes behind me. I realize that this consideration makes me an exception, but surely there's another way to stop people fighting over phones.

DOC bigwigs might ask, "So what?" I can practically hear their shrugs of indifference. But the new practice will create other problems that directly (and negatively) impact the Department.

Cell phone use in prisons is not allowed, and contraband phones have plagued administrators since the devices became small enough to conceal on one's body, after which prisoners use them for all the usual stuff – Facebook, e-mail, TikTok, and, yes, a variety of illegal activities. Poorly paid prison staff take payments to bring burner phones into their faculties. Just like in tech-deprived countries around the globe, the prisoners with phones often get their money back – and more – by renting them out for an hour or two at a time.

What's interesting is how innocent the vast majority of those calls actually are. After investigating calls made from confiscated cell phones, the Texas DOC reported ten years ago that over 80% of those unmonitored "security risks" were actually just people calling their mothers and other loved ones. Texas installed more phones in their facilities and illicit cell phone use plummeted. It's safe to say that the same will happen here in reverse, after mid-March.

Once phone time becomes scarce, its value will increase. Like every other precious resource, more people will seek to collect more of it. Theft and intimidation will proliferate as the opportunists acquire extra PINs for extra calls. New arrivals to prison once had to worry only about being coerced into gangs and sexual servitude. Now they'll also need to closely guard their PINs. I wonder if these issues were given any consideration before someone in the capital decided a fifteen-minute limit would solve anything.

1 comment:

  1. It sucks what they're doing. I really hope they think this through before it causes more problems.


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