A phone call is the only way that most of the 2.2 million incarcerated people across the United States can contact family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic, as thousands of prisons and jails ban visitors. Yet too often, local and county jails impose onerous charges on phone calls and mark up prices in jail stores, or commissary. The San Francisco Financial Justice Project estimates that 80% of local jail phone calls were paid for by incarcerated people’s loved ones, primarily low-income women of color. The consequences of these charges extend far beyond incarcerated people, stripping the savings and resources of entire families.

This is a solvable problem. In August 2020, San Francisco became the first in the nation to put people over profits — making jail phone calls free and ending the markup of commissary items in the jail store. Local advocates and people directly impacted by the criminal justice system led the charge for these reforms, and as phone justice proposals advance across the country and at the federal level, other localities can do the same.

Read the full article about jail phone calls and the markup of commissary at The Aspen Institute.