Can You Call an Inmate in Jail?

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World-renowned South African politician and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela considered solitary confinement the “most forbidding aspect of prison life,” noting that prolonged isolation causes the mind to play tricks.

Mandela’s observation highlights just one of the many grave implications of an inmate’s inability to communicate or interact with the outside world.

That said, restricting inmates’ access to their friends and loved ones beyond the jail walls can be just as problematic, even without solitary confinement.

Fortunately, the United States (U.S.) federal courts ruled that under the First Amendment (freedom of speech amendment), inmates have the right to some level of telephone access.

Still, inmates’ friends and family members may encounter difficulties contacting them, especially if the rules and procedures for inmate phone calls are unfamiliar or unclear.

Additionally, it can be challenging to locate inmates confined in thousands of state, federal, and local prisons and county jails.

Lookupinmate.org is a one-stop site for information regarding inmates and correctional facilities in the country. This article discusses whether you can call an inmate in jail and, if yes, how to do so.

Learn the requirements, steps, and potential costs of calling an inmate.

How to Call an Inmate the First Time: Setting Up a Telephone Account

While you can talk over the phone with an inmate, you can only receive their outgoing calls.

Set up a telephone account while waiting for your loved one in jail to call you.

Usually, you follow the on-screen instructions for creating an account through the facility’s telephone service provider.

For GTL users, you can visit https://web.connectnetwork.com/.

Things That Affect an Inmate’s Ability to Make Phone Calls

Here are some reasons why an inmate would not call:

  • The balance in an inmate’s phone account (some local jails and state prisons still let inmates make collect calls) is insufficient.
  • Some correctional facilities restrict inmates’ contacts, permitting only approved family members or those listed for official visits.
  • The inmate did not complete the intake procedure, so they cannot access the inmate phone system.
  • The jail is in lockdown, temporarily restricting inmates’ access to phone services.
  • Power outages and severe weather conditions delay or disrupt incoming calls.
  • The inmate forgot the phone number of their loved ones.

How the Calls Work

Each correctional facility has a designated time for inmates to call, possibly between 8 AM and 11 PM. Still, the timeframe varies depending on the jail or prison’s daily routine.

Inmates can typically make outgoing calls only after the morning roll call.

 The following companies provide phone services to jail inmates:

  • Securus
  • Global Tel Link
  • IC Solutions

Becoming Eligible to Receive Calls

Inmates can only contact the phone number listed on their official call list — which can usually contain up to 30 phone numbers.

The associate warden may grant the addition of phone numbers depending on the inmate’s situation, such as family size.

After completing an intake process, inmates submit their contact information. You are likely not on the official list if it has been years, and you still have not received any calls from your loved one in jail.

However, the inmate may still include your phone number later. One way to help the inmate remember your phone number is for you to mention it in your letter.

Intake and Classification

A thorough intake and classification process is necessary to secure a facility and ensure legal compliance and respect for individual rights.

After this process, a correctional officer assigns inmates to housing units. Each housing unit has varying levels of supervision or surveillance based on the jail staff’s assessment.

The screening procedure may also lead to the inmate’s permanent placement at one particular location.

It can also determine what rehabilitation programs the staff should offer, which are usually in line with what the board thinks is the factor underlying the inmate’s crime.

Telephone Service for Incarcerated Individuals

Inmates are allowed to use electronic devices to communicate with their loved ones. These devices connect to banks of several landline phones inmates share.

However, inmates do not have the freedom to access unregulated phone services.

Call Information

Again, the correctional facility often establishes specific rules for inmate phone calls. Here’s an example from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to give you an idea:

  • Incarcerated individuals can only call people on their approved telephone list (maximum of 15 numbers).
  • Inmates can request deletions or additions quarterly from their Offender Rehabilitation Coordinator.
  • Suppose someone does not want inmates to call them. In that case, they can inform the facility that they want to be put on the Negative Correspondence and Telephone List.
  • Inmates can make phone calls daily between 7:00 AM and 11:00 PM.
  • Calls have a duration limit of 30 minutes. Inmates will get notified if the phone call is about to get terminated.
  • The facility may impose a 10-minute call limit if others are waiting.

Jail Phone Call Rules

Inmates and loved ones planning to communicate with each other via the facility’s phone system should follow particular rules the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) or DOC (Department of Corrections) prescribe. These conditions may include the following:

  • The use of collect call-only phones
  • Monitoring and recording of jail calls for safety reasons
  • Specifying schedules for the use of inmate telephones
  • Allowing scheduled non-recorded calls, including legal calls

Note that using call-only phones is a privilege, not a right. Certain inmates may be less likely to have access to such devices for disciplinary reasons.

Prisons may also terminate calls for reasons related to the correctional facility’s order, security, and safety.

Prohibited Calls

Inmates cannot make telephone calls to do the following activities:

  • Harassing or intimidating anyone: Staff and inmates must know that this type of call potentially violates state and federal laws.

The facility’s superintendent must report cases where an individual in jail continues to make this call to relevant law enforcement officers.

  • Calling people that the facility prohibits the inmate from contacting:  Telephone calls and conversations are limited to the telephone number called or placed by or on behalf of an incarcerated individual.

Telephone forwarding, third-party phone calls, and 1-800 numbers are prohibited.

  • Incarcerated individuals cannot place calls using wireless communication devices like cellular phones.

Recording of Phone Call

Most U.S. jails and prisons document and track inmate phone calls. They conduct surveillance for security purposes, like looking for signs of a prison escape attempt.

Prison staff often listen to recordings of inmates’ phone calls and take steps to ensure the institution’s safety. During phone calls, inmates sometimes discuss their cases, criminal backgrounds, and associated topics.

Budget for Costs

Phone calls can be costly, especially if you are far from the prison facility. Ensure you know how much each minute will cost to estimate how many calls you can afford.

Rate Caps for Interstate Calls From Jails and Prisons

Unfortunately, jail and prison inmates are often forced to pay astronomical charges to contact their loved ones.

This scenario almost always happens when phone companies bait prisons and jails with high rates in exchange for a revenue share.

The good news is that, in recent years, the industry has considerably become more fair:

  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) capped interstate phone calls from jails and prisons at about 21 cents per minute for prepaid or debit calls.
  • The FCC regulated inflated rates charged by providers to reduce consumer costs.
  • Most state prison systems have lowered their in-state calling rates.

Additional Service Charges

Providers can charge additional service costs for interstate or international calling services, such as tax and regulatory fees.

As of November 2020, consumers may face higher or additional service fees if, when the charges are imposed, the calls are made only within the state.

Calls Involving the Use of TTY

The FCC helped address the needs of incarcerated people with speech or hearing disabilities by lowering rates for calls that use TTY (text telephones).

Providers’ rates for TTY-to-TTY calls are capped at 25% of the rates for other calls involving inmates. Moreover, these companies cannot collect fees or charges for TTY-to-voice or voice-to-TTY calls.

Reducing the Cost of Inmate Calls

One way to reduce the cost of contacting someone in jail or prison is to shorten the time you spend talking with that person and limit the frequency of your calls.

For example, making one extended phone call once a week may be less expensive than making multiple short calls daily. Remember that private phone companies may charge a connection fee for inmate calls.

You can also reduce the phone bill by having a local number for the institution.

Long-distance calls on a provider’s network can drive up the cost of inmate calls. You can save more if you have a local number.

The prison telecom industry lacks competition, resulting in prohibitively high phone bills for incarcerated people and their families.

Accessibility for People With Disabilities

On September 2022, the FCC passed rules requiring access to all Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) and curbing abusive calling-related practices against inmates with disabilities.

Inmate calling companies must also provide access to all relay services eligible for TRS fund support in any correctional facility with broadband connectivity and situated within a corrections system with 50 or more incarcerated individuals.

This policy involves making point-to-point video calls using American Sign Language (ASL). The rule also limits provider charges regarding relays and point-to-point video calls.

Other Rules for Interstate Calling Services for Incarcerated Individuals

Telephone service providers for incarcerated individuals cannot refuse collect calls solely due to the lack of a billing relationship with the called party‘s telecom provider unless it supports prepaid, debit, or prepaid collect calling options.

Additionally, FCC rules require that when an inmate places a collect call, every service provider should introduce themselves to the individual receiving the call before connecting.

Each service provider should disclose how the recipient may obtain rate quotations before initiating the call.

Lastly, the phone company should let the receiving party end the telephone call free of charge before connecting the call.

Filing a Complaint

You can register a complaint through the FCC if you think a jail telecom service provider is taking advantage of you or a loved one in jail:

  • File a grievance online at https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov.
  • By phone 
    • 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322)
    • TTY(text telephones): 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322)
    • ASL (American Sign Language) 1-844-432-2275
  • By mail: Include your complete name, address, contact details, and as much information regarding your complaint as possible. You can mail your complaint to this address:
    • Federal Communications Commission
           Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
           Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
           45 L Street NE
           Washington, DC 20554

How to Contact an Inmate

Staying in touch with family and friends in jail can be challenging. Here’s a quick guide to help you get started.

1. Go to the Jail Website

Visiting the facility’s official website can provide helpful information regarding inmate contact.

2. Find the Inmate’s Booking Number

Finding the inmate’s booking number can make communication easier, especially if you plan to send a letter or schedule a visit.

You can locate an inmate using LookUpInmate.org’s search tool or by visiting the facility’s website and searching through its directory.

3. Communicating With an Inmate

Communication is essential to sustaining connections, bringing support, and fostering a sense of belonging during incarceration.

Below are ways to communicate with a loved one in jail.

Write Letters

Writing letters to a loved one in jail can be a meaningful way to maintain a relationship with them. That said, correctional staff screens and checks mail, so sending letters to jail usually takes longer.

What to Write

Here are some topics to discuss with a loved one in jail:

  • What does confinement in a facility feel like?
  • What do you plan to do first after your release?
  • What is your favorite jail food?
  • How has the incarceration experience changed you?
  • Do you have friends among the jail inmates or guards?
  • Have you encountered a prison bully? If so, how can we help you?
  • Do you think imprisonment serves any good purpose?

Mailing Addresses

Correctional institutions have different rules for addressing envelopes to inmates. So, it is best to check with the institution where the inmate is serving their sentence.

Below are some general guidelines for addressing envelopes to inmates.

For instance, letters addressed to a State of Florida correctional facility have the following format:

  • Center: Inmate’s last name, first name, and department of corrections number (DC#), followed by PO Box 23608 and Tampa, FL 33623
  • Top-left corner: Sender’s complete name and mailing address (city, state, and ZIP code)

In-Prison Visits

Visitation rules vary by facility, so you must know them before visiting your loved one in jail. Dress appropriately and avoid provocative or revealing clothing or clothing similar to prison clothing. 

Generally, jails allow handshakes, hugs, and displays of affection, but some have a no-touch policy.

Inmate Technology Services

These services refer to the various technologies and resources provided to incarcerated people to facilitate communication, education, and access to crucial information during confinement.

Inmate Telephone System

This system is an inmate technology service that most inmates can use. The process of using such services may involve the following mechanics:

  • Registration
  • Procedures for making calls
  • Rules for making calls
Inmate Tablets

Inmate tablets allow qualified inmates to access secure tablets that feature educational, vocational, religious, and legal materials.

Email Contact

Inmates cannot have unsupervised internet access, so you will likely be unable to email them directly. Some jails work with a third-party service provider to handle email.

For example, King County correctional facilities in Washington use Access Corrections to manage email.

Other email management services include JPay,  Viapath (formerly Global Tel Link or GTL), and CorrLinks.

Below are common steps for sending emails to inmates.

E-messaging Service

E-messages enable inmates’ friends and relatives to send digital messages to inmates. E-messaging uses an email-like system that supports photos, text messages, and e-cards.

Video Visitation

Some facilities work with service providers to facilitate video conferences between inmates and their families.

For example, through Securus Video Visitation, some facilities allow eligible Texas inmates to have virtual face-to-face conversations with loved ones.

How to Receive Phone Calls From an Inmate

As shown above, inmates typically submit a list of phone numbers shortly after entering jail or prison. You can get phone calls from an inmate if your contact information is on that approved telephone list.

Unfortunately, being on the approved list does not guarantee a callback. Your loved one in jail might not be contacting you due to the following reasons:

  • Generally, cell phones do not support collect calls. You might not get any calls because the inmate put your cell phone number on the list rather than your telephone number.
  • Telephone service providers may have also blocked collect calls for your number. If you encounter this problem, contact your phone company’s customer service to determine whether your number can receive collect calls.

Meanwhile, you might occasionally experience a call dropped mid-conversation. Suppose you find yourself in the same situation. In that case, you likely turned on your phone’s call-waiting feature or started a three-way call.

Step-by-Step Guide:

Below are four steps you must follow to receive a call from an inmate.

1) Be Included on Inmate’s Contact List

Inmates must first ensure that your number appears on the facility’s approved contacts list so you can receive their calls.

2) Apply to Have Your Phone Number Approved for Calls

You can apply via the facility’s preferred service provider’s website or submit a printed application by mail.

Applying online is probably more convenient and secure because mailroom staff often lose applications in jails and prisons.

3) Wait for Approval and Set Up an Account With the Facility’s Telephone Provider

The telephone service provider’s site can estimate when you can access your account.

Suppose the expected timeframe has passed, and you have not received a call from your loved one in jail. In that case, you should contact your telephone service provider and clarify the status of your application.

While awaiting approval, you can start comparing providers’ call rates. Knowing their prices can help gauge if you can call your loved one frequently.

4) Accept the Inmate’s First Call

When you receive a call from the inmate, it is likely from a phone number unfamiliar to you.

If you answer the call, an automated voice may inform you that an inmate wants to talk to you from a specific facility.

You can then press the assigned button to take the call and communicate with your loved one in jail for the period set by the facility.

How Does an Inmate Make a Phone Call?

How inmates make phone calls varies depending on the correctional facility‘s guidelines.

Some jails allow inmates to call using a prepaid calling card. Others operate communal phones in shared spaces, and inmates must sign up for available time slots before calling someone.

Advance Pay Calls

A family member or friend can create a calling account to their phone number without paying standard rates.

Service providers deduct minutes from inmates’ accounts when inmates call prepaid numbers.

Individuals can get prepaid phone services from ConnectNetwork.com, including AdvancePay, a prepaid collect calling service people can use to receive calls from inmates in correctional facilities.

Instructions for Inmates Located in the U.S.

States have the authority to regulate in-state calling options for incarcerated individuals.

Inmates and their loved ones can check the state’s policies and guidelines to avoid phone rule violations or to determine whether their communication rights have been violated.

You can file a complaint to the state public utility commission where the violation occurred. You can visit  https://naruc.org/about-naruc/regulatory-commissions/ or check the government listings in your local telephone directory to get state public utility commission addresses.

When the Inmate Will Be Allowed to Call

The inmate phone call schedule varies from jail to jail.

But even though these facilities differ regarding the details of the inmate admission process, they share many similarities.

Designated prison staff members facilitate inmates’ intake and classification, involving a  physical, medical, and psychological evaluation to determine the inmate’s placement.

Depending on the facility’s policy and the inmate’s case, the process can end anytime —  from a day to a few weeks.

During the intake, inmates are often not allowed in-person visits personally, but you can mail or call them.

Again, each facility has an official schedule for when inmates can make phone calls. For example, some jails or prisons prohibit inmates from contacting someone outside the facility before their morning routine ends.

Lastly, suppose something goes wrong, like a riot or epidemic, in the facility or inmates’ dormitories. In that case, the inmates will likely be unable to access the phone system for a while.

Find a Licensed, Professional Bail Bond Agent

Working with a licensed, professional bail bond agent can help ensure efficiency when arranging an inmate phone call.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What should you not do when calling someone in jail?

Prison officials will review your phone conversation. So, it is best to avoid discussing the following topics:

  • Any unlawful activity, including the inmate’s criminal record
  • Anything the facility rules prohibit

Suppose you want to clarify what you can (or cannot) say during the call. In that case, seeking legal assistance before communicating with a loved one in jail can help.

 2. What happens when someone calls you from jail?

If you receive a call from jail, you may hear a recorded message in the following format:

“Hi, this is a prepaid call from [insert inmate’s name], an inmate at [insert facility’s name]. To answer the call, press [number]. To decline, press [number].”

 3. What’s the latest an inmate can call?

In most facilities, prison phone calls are limited when inmates should to be at their work assignments. Typically, their work schedule is 7:30-10:30 AM and 12:30-4:00 PM.

In most cases, phone calls are limited to 15 minutes. At the same time, prison wardens set a waiting interval between phone calls, and back-to-back calls are generally prohibited.

Consequently, inmates usually have to wait an hour or so from the time of their last phone call to place another one.

References

  1. The Nelson Mandela Rules: Protecting the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty
    https://www.un.org/en/un-chronicle/nelson-mandela-rules-protecting-rights-persons-deprived-liberty
  2. Chapter Seven: Analysis
    https://oig.justice.gov/sites/default/files/archive/special/9908/callsp7.htm
  3. 28 CFR § 540.101 – Procedures
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/28/540.101
  4. Intake and Classification Procedures
    https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/114436NCJRS.pdf
  5. Telephone Calls
    https://doccs.ny.gov/telephone-calls
  6. Telephone Service for Incarcerated Individuals
    https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/telephone-service-incarcerated-individuals
  7. Email or send mail to an adult in jail
    https://kingcounty.gov/en/dept/dajd/courts-jails-legal-system/information-services-jail-detention/contact-visit-adult/mail
  8. Contacting an Inmate
    http://www.dc.state.fl.us/ci/ContactInmate.html
  9. Inmate Technology Services
    https://www.tdcj.texas.gov/offender_tele/index.html
  10. IN DOC Inmate Telephone Service
    https://www.gtl.net/in-telephone-service/

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