Consumer laws are not doing enough to protect rights of prisoners in US, says report

From denying behind-bar customers the basic care as sellers to the retail companies avoiding regulations to fleece customers in jails, there are many problems to be addressed, says the report by Prison Policy Initiative volunteer Stephen Raher


                            Consumer laws are not doing enough to protect rights of prisoners in US,  says report
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People in jail are also consumers and must pay for basic necessities like soap, medicine, phone calls, etc. But are consumer rights and protections being applied to them as they should be?

Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) volunteer Stephen Raher has come up with an article addressing the issue and the piece, ‘The Company Store and the Literally Captive Market: Consumer Laws in Prisons and Jails’, has been published in the Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal in its Winter 2020 edition.

Raher has spoken on a comprehensive study of consumer law issues in prisons and jails and is also set to speak on it at the Consumer Rights Litigation Conference, which is sponsored by the National Consumer Law Center, Boston, this weekend.

The issue is an alarming one since the US has the world’s biggest incarcerated population that has only gone up since the 1970s. Currently, there are almost 2.3 million adults held in America’s correctional facilities and there are a whole lot of problems that they experience.

Inmates denied basic customer care

In his detailed article, Raher, an Oregon-based lawyer, says that incarcerated customers are denied basic customer care services -- like refunding money for poor products, warranties that make sense and even the promise that they will be provided with a quality product. 

Raher’s write-up also speaks about how prison retail companies try to justify the high prices that they charge from their customers behind bars. It is often seen that the prison retailers claim high prices because of the overhead costs that come with security. But these overhead costs — to the extent that they are real – are likely canceled out by common business functions that prison retailers don’t have to spend money on, such as advertising and operating a network of brick-and-mortar stores, Raher writes.

Retail companies avoid regulation

Raher has also pointed out how retail companies avoid regulation while operating inside prisons. Some of the prison phone companies, for example, are trying to project themselves as “information services” companies -- those that are subject to lesser regulations and oversight.

The problem is exacerbated by the way these prisons operate. The rising number of correctional facilities has shifted the costs of incarceration onto the people who have been put behind bars, Raher argues, besides saying that they also often garnish portions of family members’ deposits into their loved ones’ trust accounts, making it more costly for those outside to support their loved ones inside. 

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