Angola is the state of Lousiana’s largest state prison. The sprawling complex is one of the largest of its kind, taking up more than 28 square miles in Eastern Louisiana. Modeled on the Southern farm prison idea, the facility has long been nearly self-sufficient, similar to Parchman Farm in Mississippi and other similar Southern prisons.
In keeping with the long tradition of Southern prisons being self-sufficient, Angola has mostly grown its own food and covered its own costs with prisoner labor. While the practice of Southern prison self-sufficiency has garnered a great deal of negative attention for its excesses, such as those documented by Michelle Alexander in her book “Slavery by Another Name”, the system has some decidedly positive effects. One of the most notable is that many Southern prisons have had to rely minimally on taxpayer money.
This penchant for self-sufficiency extends into all facets of the daily operations at Angola. Prisoners are expected to be employed in a vocation. These include attending to the prison’s farming activities or working in the shop. But the prison also earns revenues from its phone systems. For every call that inmates place, Angola takes a 70 percent cut. The rest is left for the prison phone system provide, Dallas-based Securus Technologies, to go to operational costs and a small profit.
But even if such a large commission seems like an extraordinary amount to take from every dollar that inmates spend on phone calls, the inmates probably don’t notice. That’s because the prison phone system’s operator, Securus, has been able to keep the average per-minute cost of phone calls down to just $.15 per minute. At these rates, most of Angola’s inmate population can afford to stay in nearly daily contact with loved ones, a possibility that is much more than a mere convenience for the inmates,
One of the hardest aspects of incarceration in the United States isn’t the burden it imposes on the inmates. They’ve been duly convicted in a court of law, often for terrible crimes. But there are often innocent family members whose lives are torn apart by a father being incarcerated for a lengthy sentence. It has been estimated that in the United States there are more than 3 million children of prisoners who, as a result of their parent’s sentence, are being raised in single-mother households.
Sociologists have identified this group of children as being among the most at-risk youths in the country, for every major negative life outcome that there is. Without a father in the home, these kids are more likely to drop out of high school, become habitually unemployed and most tragically, pursue a life of crime, following in their fathers’ footsteps and ending up in and out of prison for the remainder of their lives. This tragic consequence is one of the collateral costs of a prison population that exceeds that of any other nation on earth.
However, technologies deployed by companies like Securus are changing that. With truly cheap phone calls, Securus is proving that the prisoners, their families and the facilities themselves all can walk away happy.