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Prison Phone Call Price Cap Is in Limbo: FCC to Vote on New Proposal

Prisoners are not usually a coveted consumer group, except for a select few companies that profit from incarceration. Among these are prison phone companies Global Tel*Link (GTL) and Securus Technologies, which have been charging prisoners and their families exorbitant rates to communicate.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a rate cap on calls of all kinds and the companies fought it hard, winning a stay in a March federal appeals court ruling. That stay is still in place and compromise efforts by the FCC are under consideration, reports Ars Technica.

Jail seems like enough of a burden in and of itself. You lose your freedom, perhaps your job and future employment possibilities, contact with your loved ones, and jail isn't always the safest place to be. As it turns out, incarceration can be expensive as well.

It may not seem like it from the outside, since most people think prisoners basically get free room and board for their time inside, but going to prison can cost you a pretty penny. Here's how much it costs to go to jail, from arrest to release:

New Orleans announced plans to relocate 600 inmates from its troubled city jail this week, sending them to prisons far from the city. For those inmates still awaiting trial or appealing their convictions, this means far from their legal counsel, not to mention family and support systems.

While the Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to an attorney, does that mean your attorney has to be close by?

FCC Price Cap on Inmate Phone Calls Stalled, Talk Still Not Cheap

Inmates and their families have to pay to communicate, and some say the costs are so high and outrageous that they constitute a tax on the poor. Last year, in October, the Federal Communications Commission capped the costs of calling inmates, but the International Business Times reports that there are setbacks.

The setbacks reveal a lot about what was wrong with the jail and prison communication system to begin with. Mignon Clyburn, an FCC commissioner who led the charge for reform, has called the prison phone industry the "most egregious case of market failure" she has seen in her career. Here's why.

Most prisons outlaw cell phones. And yet that doesn't seem to stop many prisoners from obtaining cell phones and even keep up with their Facebook and Twitter accounts from inside. (Maybe all those prison guards should stop smuggling cell phones to inmates. Or prisons could hire more phone-sniffing dogs like the one at Riker's Island.)

And here's a new worry, from "Alabama's most violent prison" -- inmates are using cell phones to organize and livestream protests and prison riots.

It seems like every day we're hearing news of criminal defendants, some of them on death row awaiting execution, being exonerated by DNA evidence or otherwise having their convictions overturned. Often, they have spent decades in jail, all for crimes they did not commit. Beyond the moral and legal obligations to have a criminal justice system that doesn't incarcerate innocent people, there are financial reasons to make sure only guilty parties are convicted and go to jail.

A recent study found that serious mistakes in California's criminal justice system cost the state (and taxpayers) over $282 million between 1989 and 2012. This total included trials, incarceration expenses, appeals, and compensation for those wrongfully imprisoned in cases where the state failed to prosecute the right person or obtained flawed or unsustainable convictions. These are mistakes that must be avoided at all costs.

Are Prisons Liable for Inmate Attacks?

It's understood that prison is and should be unpleasant. Still, that doesn't mean prisoners have no protections. The protections are more limited than for a free person, of course.

Still, in the case of an inmate attack, under some circumstances, there are claims that even the imprisoned can make. Let's take a look at vicarious liability for institutions of incarceration.

After news broke last week that U.S. Marshals arrested a Houston man over $5,700 in unpaid student debt, about 7.6 million people behind on their own loans started to sweat. Threatening calls and letters, garnished wages, and now federal agents showing up at your door?

While most of us were blown away by Paul Aker's arrest, the Marshals Service insists it was business as usual, and that it wasn't their first attempt to get Aker to appear in federal court. So are the feds coming for you next?

FBI Busts GA Prison Guards for Crime Inside

If you ever wondered what goes on in prisons, an FBI bust last week will provide insight. Nearly 50 Georgia Department of Corrections guards were arrested after a 2-year FBI undercover operation revealed "staggering corruption," reports CNN.

Prison guards provided inmates with cell phones and sold drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. The cell phones allowed inmates to commit crimes on the inside, including identity theft and other frauds. Plus, as if that was not enough, among those busted were two officers from an elite special Cobra unit designed to target drug dealing in prison.

Preparing for Jail Visits and Helping Incarcerated Relatives

This is not exactly the kind of family gathering you ever hoped to attend, but it is happening. You have to go to the county jail to visit a family member and you are wondering what will happen and how to handle it.

Jail regulations will vary from state to state and county to county -- and federal prison is yet another story -- so you must check the local rules as well as inquire with the jail. But here are some tips to minimize the anguish of this difficult family visit.