Telephone Communications

What rights do prisoners have to telecommunication access?
Answered by Science Channel
  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. For a long time, civil liberties activists and prison authorities have butted heads about the rights of prisoners who want to use telephones whenever they choose. Currently, nothing regulates phone use in prisons or grants phone rights, and the rules vary by prisons and by states. Federal courts have ruled that First Amendment rights to free speech do not apply to unrestricted access to telephones. Many prisons consider an inmate's phone privileges a perk rather than a right.

    The issue keeps getting bigger, however, as telecommunications advances bring forth more possibilities. Prisons across the country use telemedicine, for example, to provide health care services to inmates without transporting them to medical facilities. The state of Arizona reported saving more than $230,000 in 2008 by using telemedicine at nine of its correctional facilities [source: Gramlich]. The practice saves money by eliminating some of the transport costs -- guards, vehicles and fuel -- and helps inmates receive specialty care from within prison walls. Videoconferencing and transmission of x-rays via high-speed telecommunication lines are some ways that telemedicine works.  

    More and more prisons also are recognizing the value of telecommunications in helping inmates bond with family members outside prison walls and improve their community re-entry prospects once they leave prison. All federal prisons now allow some form of e-mail communication, although it's subjected to the same sort of security processes as mail and telephone conversations [source: Green Technology World].

    Videoconferenced visitations also are becoming more commonplace in prisons around the country. The visitor still must be registered and approved and will need a Web cam and microphone to connect to the inmate. Use of the Internet also has sparked a great deal of controversy. Those concerned about security debate that inmates should not have Internet access, but supporters of its use say that limited access can help offenders research legal information, make appropriate purchases and advance their training or education. They also emphasize that expanding use of technology by inmates should supplement, and not replace, existing rights of inmates. In other words, video visitations should not replace the right to personal visits and videoconferenced parole hearings should not supplant an inmate's right to appear in person at his or her hearing [source: Nevada ACLU].

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