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British prisoners charged exorbitant rates for phone calls


London : British Telecom (BT) has been accused of charging exorbitant rates for calls made by prisoners, who often have to pay up to eight times the cost of a normal call to talk to their families, a consumer body has said.

The National Consumer Council (NCC) is now set to lodge a complaint with the government against BT, which has a monopoly over telephone services in jails in England and Wales.

It also wants to rap the British prison service for not getting the inmates a better deal.

A 10-minute call from inside prison costs nearly three times as much as from a public payphone, while a 60-minute call is eight times as expensive.

A 10-minute call from prison costs 77 pence. A similar duration day time call for normal consumers costs 40 pence and an evening call costs 15 pence. And the weekend landline calls from BT are free.

The NCC said that there is also a larger social impact of the high call rates for prisoners in terms of efforts to rehabilitate offenders.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said research shows that inmates who lost contact with the outside world are six times more likely to return to crime.

“Prisoners staying in touch with their families is known to reduce risk, both of re-offending on release and of suicide and self-harm in prison,” she said.

Because of the tariffs, most inmates are only able to maintain limited contact with their families through brief calls.

The costly calls are also making a dent in the prisoners’ salaries. At 77 pence, the 10-minute prison call is nearly a tenth of an inmate’s weekly wages, which come to roughly 9.60 pounds.

A bulk of their earnings goes on BT phone cards. The remaining wages are used by inmates to buy cigarettes, eats and cleansers. In British prisons, the prices of commonly consumed items include one pound for a packet of chocolate digestive biscuits, 2.83 pounds for 12.5g of Golden Virginia tobacco, and 2.23 pounds for a 250g tube of shower gel.