Despite the circumstances, there’s something almost charming or romantic about writing to a loved one in prison. Maybe it’s just because we associate with snail mail; a bygone, ‘Gone with the Wind’ sensibility, where every letter begins with the phrase ‘Dearest Father.’

The reality is pretty gloomy; letter-writing can often be the only cost-effective way relatives can contact anyone on the inside. Both in Australia and overseas, prisoners are charged for phone calls they make. It sounds obvious, doesn’t it; we all get a phone bill. But prisoners can’t keep their mobile. They can’t even choose a provider. They’re locked into one contract for the duration of their stay. And we already know the effects high call prices can have.

Here in Bathurst, we don’t even know how much a regular call costs; the prisons themselves are super cagey (geddit) about the whole thing. Telstra provides landline telephones that prisoners can access in common areas only, which lack the privacy some calls require. When contacted by Interp, NSW Corrective Services said the “costs were subject to commercial-in-confidence.”

The impacts can be grave. In her new book Somebody’s Daughter, author Ashley Ford described the experience of writing to her incarcerated father. She described the deliberacy of the writing process meant that for extended periods, she didn’t write to her father at all.

Research has shown that consistent contact with the outside world is of significant benefit not just to the families of inmates, but to the prisoners themselves. Research from the Vera Instiute of Justice has shown that “family members can be valuable sources of support during and after incarceration.” Most importantly for society at large, it showed that inmates who maintained strong family connections were less likely to commit further crimes once released.

Credit: The Atlantic, Clint Smith