St. Louis Area Jail Phone Rates & Commissions

If you think your cell phone bill is high, be thankful you aren’t trying to keep in contact with someone in jail or prison. If you’ve placed, or received, a phone call involving someone incarcerated you are familiar with the exorbitant fees involved. Individuals who are incarcerated locally face rates as high as $214 a month to stay in touch with loved ones over the phone one hour per week. Prison and jail facilities often outsource their phone systems to private companies who charge rates as high as 73 cents a minute. These call rates are on top of service fees and other charges that can easily add nearly 40% to the cost of a single call.

The contracts are built in a way that allow for facilities to make extra commissions on everything from the phone calls to secure emails, voicemails, and video chats. These add-on rates usually make-up half of the cost of a call, and they offer an attractive and sizeable revenue stream for the often cash-strapped departments. Without these commissions, rates as low as five cents per minute are possible with no commission markup. This is case for Missouri State Department of Corrections Institutions.

In 2013, the FCC overhauled one source of these excessive fees by capping interstate call rates at 21 cents a minute. On October 22, 2015, the FCC plans to overhaul the rates for nearly every other call type and limit the fees service providers can tack on to the cost of a phone call.

In the St. Louis area, there are a wide range of rates, commission payments, and additional fees that incarcerated individuals (and more often families) face when paying the phone bill.

Jefferson County has the highest fees of the facilities surveyed. At 66 cents per minute for a local call, an inmate or family member could expect to pay over $200 to keep in contact. Securus, the phone system contractor, charges a minimum of $7.95 every time money is added to a prepaid account, and it limits the amount you can process at $25 each transaction. Say you wanted to load $100 into a prepaid account account: That means you would have to pay $7.95 x 4 in processing fees totaling $131.80 just to load the account due to the $25 per transaction limit. 

Research has shown that contact between inmates, their families, and loved ones during incarceration reduces recidivism.

“These reforms will help inmates and their families stay in touch by making calling more affordable, and benefit society as a whole by helping inmates transition more smoothly back into society upon their release,” the FCC wrote in their announcement of the pending vote.

One area the proposed FCC change does not address is video chat calls, which can run as high as $15.95 per 30-minute session. Area facilities have said they are considering installing inmate video chat systems. In July, Jefferson County installed their own video chat. After installing the video system, Jefferson County also eliminated face-to-face visits and require visitors to use video monitors to chat with individuals in jail.

More on Jefferson County’s switch to video visitations. 

The proposed rates will go into effect as early as January 20, 2016.

St. Louis Jail Phone Rates and Commissions

Data sources: Rates, contracts, and revenue statements were obtained through open records requests and documents disclosed online by the Missouri Department of Corrections, St. Louis County Justice Center, St. Louis City Justice Center, and Jefferson County Jail.
Jefferson County:
St. Louis County
St. Louis City:
Missouri Department of Corrections:

I quit my big bank for something Simple

The first year I had my checking account I incurred around $300 in overdraft charges. If I had to guess, the first lesson everyone gets from their bank is in the form of overdraft fees, although hopefully not as steep. I never really understood the point of overdraft fees. Charge me $35 so my $1.06 gas station soda debit charge goes through? I’d rather be denied the soda. My bank was actually part of a class action lawsuit for misleading overdraft fee structures. Lawsuits also happened at Bank of America & Wells Fargo and lots of other banks. How’s that for customer service?

As someone who was just learning their way with personal finance, I hated it and have always been pretty bad at it. Most everyone starts with a checking and savings account. Each account has their own current & available balance, something that I never fully grasped for a long time is what each meant. The choice is largely between credit unions, local & big name banks or store your money under the mattress. None did anything in terms of helping me be better at personal finance.

I recently discovered Simple.

When I come across a new piece of tech, I admittedly tend to fall hard. I eagerly opened my mailbox everyday for months awaiting my Square card reader in 2010. Simple is also rolling out in a slower, controlled fashion but I was able to snag an invite quickly with some late-night twitter sleuthing & begging.

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My first interaction with Simple was some time before I came across it online. Anyone working a service job can be considered an expert in credit & debit card variety. I think where your card is from, what’s on it and the tactile feel says a lot about you as a person. I distinctly remember at one time being handed a stark white, extremely light card with a simple, Simple logo on it with a matte-like card feel. I had never seen one before and it struck me as something unique and I meant to follow-up later at the time to learn more about its origin. (This sounds a bit dramatic, but I promise that’s how my obsessive brain operates.) I never did look into it more.

It’s no wonder there are many unboxing posts from people receiving their cards. It’s a beautiful physical product.

Image from TNW’s review:

They have an equally beautiful, and more importantly, functional mobile and web experience.

Those familiar with the finance service Mint feel right at home with data about every transaction including grouping like food, gas and bills. Since Simple isn’t just feeding data like banks do to Mint, they allow for very rich data for every transaction including mapping where they all take place. Their Safe-to-Spend amount takes the mystery out of what’s in your bank account that isn’t already claimed by an earlier transaction, upcoming bill or goal.

Easily their best banking feature is their Goals function. This is what sold me to ditch my bank completely.

I’m planning a vacation in July. I know that I need $400 saved for my vacation a few days before I leave. A month ago, I setup a goal in Simple for my vacation. Setting a goal is as easy as naming what your goal is for, like vacation or a new dog, picking a date you need it by and choosing to set aside money now or save over time.

I chose to save over time and Simple automatically sets aside whatever amount it needs to each day out of my Safe-to-Spend amount to meet my goal amount by the date specified. Thoughtless, automatic saving. Exactly what I need.

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Not my goals. Although, a trip to Iceland would be pretty great.

Even with the beauty, functionality and features of Simple, that list doesn’t include my main big bank issue: customer service. Sure, any bank will be more than happy to let you visit them and assist with deposits and withdrawals, although, that too sometimes had its own fees. They were chipper and friendly when setting up my account and I can always find their not-always-near location, wait in line and someone will help me with any problems. But that’s not ever convenient and not the service I want.

Simple puts service at its forefront. Within their slick, awesome app is a section dedicated to support conversations and just a tap away is a direct line to a real person at Simple to help with any problems. When viewing my account online, their support and ongoing conversations with me are right on the home screen.

Getting used to how Simple does things and really making it work for you isn’t always easily apparent. On many occasions I’ve reached out for help through their support function. After each message sends you’re given a deadline on when someone will respond to your message. Unless it’s late in the day, it will usually say that day or tomorrow at the latest. I’ve never gone more than a few hours or overnight with an unanswered, non-urgent question. In fact, their support is so helpful and personable it makes me want to interact with them more and learn the ins and outs of Simple.

One of my favorite twitter customer service interactions ever happened with Simple. One frustration I had with the service was transferring money to my Simple account. I was tweeting with a friend and mentioned this, but offered to help them with workarounds I had found. Simple was tagged in the tweet, but was not involved with the conversation.

Within minutes of me tweeting about this, I received a support message from Simple. They said they noticed the tweets and actually were testing a feature that solved my problem behind-the-scenes and let me know they enabled it for me to try out. HOLY CRAP. This is what social media needs & can to be! All. the. time. If only every company listened on social media so well and responded in the same way.  This is the greatest opportunity businesses have on social media and the philosophy I try to uphold everyday over at my job with Kaldi’s.

I’m keeping my money Simple from now on.

Ps, that great feature just went live this week to make it super simple to transfer money between Simple and other bank accounts.

Enjoy this post? Hit the tweet button for me and I may just have an invite to send your way.

Silence from STLCC-Meramec after attack

Unfortunately for STLCC-Meramec, it made headlines this week and for all the wrong reasons, again. A male allegedly attacked a female student in a women’s restroom, putting her in a choke hold intending to kill her and scratching her face. A faculty member in a nearby classroom heard the commotion and helped restrain the male until nearby campus police officers arrested him. Meramec did everything right at this point and should be applauded for it. It was a seemingly random attack with no warning. After the situation concluded, it made its mistake. A quote from the Post-Dispatch article:

[Meramec police chief] Banta would not identify the male student, citing an ongoing investigation. He said police did not publicize the incident immediately after the attack because they already had the man in custody.

“We didn’t see the need to cause hysteria on the campus,” Banta said. “I don’t think we had anything to gain when the guy is under arrest and the threat was eliminated.”

Wrong. Everything the school had to gain was lost when they didn’t communicate the attack outside of those directly involved. I could cite numerous incidents at colleges across the country over the years with increased focus given to student safety as a result. That should be the upmost priority and part of making students feel they are on a safe campus is by directly communicating with them any and all incidents as soon as possible. More after the twitter a exchange with @STLCC about the attack.

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There was a problem connecting to Twitter.
There was a problem connecting to Twitter.
There was a problem connecting to Twitter.
There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

I’ve been one of STLCC’s most vocal critics, including of its social media use (which to their credit is much, much better since that was published). More recently it made national headlines with a video that went viral of a fight on the Meramec campus. I was unaffiliated with the student paper at the time of the fight and saw the video on my facebook feed prior to any local or national attention. My Storify of the video led to the coverage.

I’m critical, but I truly just want it to succeed for the numerous things the school does so well and stop leaving itself open to bad publicity. Incidents, like this attack, unfortunately are going to happen at some point. Get ahead of the story by swiftly communicating with students & faculty when it comes to student safety. Take the lead with distributing information. Students shouldn’t get first word of campus safety incidents from third-parties. Period.

Have an opinion? The best way to have your voice heard is by attending the STLCC Board of Trustees meeting this Thursday, April 24th at the Forest Park campus. 

Fear while sitting in a food court

I was sitting in a crowded mall food court the day after Christmas and a suddenly a sense of fear rushed over me. I was alone with my headphones in, head buried in my iPhone reading a forgotten Kindle book, Methland, as I waited for the Apple Store to finish installing a new OS on my Mac. I had fries and an iced tea spread out before me on the table for one. It was as crowded I’ve ever seen the food court. The book I was reading had my attention, but suddenly an aching in my heart came over me along with a senseless panicked feeling.

Today marks 14 days since the tragic Newtown, CT, massacre. I was at work when I read the first tweets about the shooting. I’ve read and heard a lot of truly horrible stories in my lifetime, but this was the first time I felt so sick to my stomach after reading that I couldn’t focus on anything else. I know many felt and feel the same way. Also for the first time ever, I couldn’t bare to read my stream on twitter for awhile and quit refreshing my feed. I was brought to tears at least a half dozen times in the car listening to NPR rehash the day’s events, another first. It was overwhelming.

Maybe it’s because my Mom is the director of the preschool I attended when I was little. Everyday it is filled with kids just a year or two younger than those killed in the shooting. I literally grew up my whole life in a preschool and can’t fathom something as sickening happening there. It’s one of those stories that only requires the connection of being another human being to have your life brought to a halt as you learn about the news.

I’ve never been one to be afraid of something happening to me because something horrible happened in a similar setting somewhere else. I felt safe attending high school after Columbine. I felt safe attending college after Virginia Tech. When I was sitting in the crowded food court with hundreds of people around me this week, I didn’t feel safe anymore.

I looked up from my iPhone and discreetly scanned my surroundings making my way from corner-to-corner of the food court. If an elementary classroom doesn’t bring the sense of certain security it once did before, a mall food court would be no match. I contemplated right then in that situation what I would do, should something similar happen. Where I would run? Would I run? Would I hide and wait for an opportunity to try and bring a shooter down? Would I freeze unable to process what to do? What would everyone else around me do? It was a back and forth hypothetical situation that occupied my thoughts for enough time to finish my fries and tea. I finally quit thinking about it and went back to putting my head down to focus on my iPhone and lazily reading my book. I took one headphone out and let dangle to the side, though, just in case, so I could listen for any warning of gunshots that could be coming.

Walk-off home run by Freese, Cardinals force World Series Game 7

The Montage crew watched the unbelievable game six tonight in a sports bar near our hotel in Florida. I watched them watching the game and got a few good ones. The table behind us had the only Ranger fans and we were the only Cards fans. Needless to say, we’ll be back tomorrow.


Color isn’t perfect, but I have convention sessions in a few hours to attend. Updates to come later.

STLCC—Meramec Presents “The Rocky Horror Show”

I lost my Rocky virginity this week shooting the rehearsals for Rocky Horror at Meramec for The Montage. This will no doubt be the most visually covered event so far this year with a photo booth being set-up for show goers, extensive video work being done by our fine video editor and still images of the show to accompany the story. I can’t think of a better event to pull out all the stops for after seeing it.\

Too many favorites to show them all. More to come in a slideshow on The Montage next Tuesday.