EDITOR’S NOTE: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

As families gather this holiday season, it’s a heartbreaking time of year for those with incarcerated relatives. Not only are they deprived of seeing their loved ones in-person, but also they’re often forced to choose between having no contact whatsoever with those loved ones or accumulating staggering debt.

That’s because in the United States’ jails and prisons, many incarcerated people are charged steep fees to make phone calls to the outside world. On average, a 15-minute call costs $5.74, with some prisons charging a dollar or more per minute—not counting tacked-on hidden fees that can increase overall costs by up to 40 percent.

All told, the correctional telecom industry rakes in more than $1.4 billion annually from prisoner phone calls. That cost is generally passed on to the families of incarcerated people—who are disproportionately low-income, and disproportionately people of color. More than one-third of families with incarcerated relatives go into debt to cover the cost of staying in touch.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.