Civil Rights Groups and Conservative Leaders Urge FCC to End Practice of Predatory Prison Phone Rates
May 21, 2012 - Posted by Avril Lighty
Making calls from prison is extremely expensive and the cost to consumers has nothing to do with the cost of the phone service provided. The high rates of prison phone calls are the result of contracts between prisons and telephone companies that are awarded based not on the cheapest rates but on which company can provide the largest commission to the prison.
“Small gestures that keep love and friendships growing, like a phone call on Mother’s Day or wishing happy birthday to your kids, are often the only way for many inmates to keep those close relationships alive,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “But many prisons don’t view these precious ties as rehabilitative or lifesaving. Instead, they view them as revenue generators – ways to pad their bottom line. This issue transcends party and ideology. We collectively represent millions of American households who are committed to reforming this outrageous and predatory practice.”
The issue has attracted broad support, from conservative leaders such as Gary Bauer and David Keene, as well as civil rights groups such as The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, and the National Organization for Women.
According to the joint letter, a typical interstate collect call from prison has a $3.95 connection fee (regardless of the length of the call), while additional charges can be as high as almost 90 cents per minute. Inmates’ family members and loved ones outside of prison could pay as much as $250 a month for a weekly one-hour phone call.
Advocates emphasized the importance of inmates being able to maintain a support network to reduce recidivism after their release, thus lowering government costs for correction facilities. Within three years of being released, 67 percent of ex-prisoners re-offend and 52 percent are re-incarcerated. According to the Pew Center on the States, state and federal spending on corrections has grown 400 percent over the past 20 years, from about $12 billion to about $60 billion. Exorbitant phone rates make regular telephone contact with innocent family members and community members difficult to maintain.
“Research shows that intact families are the most important factor in inmates making a successful transition after prison,” said Pat Nolan, president of Justice Fellowship and a former inmate. “The prisons should be doing all they can to strengthen families during incarceration, so the inmates have a supportive family when they get out. Yet, the huge ‘add-ons’ to the costs of calls home severely limits the number of times inmates can call their families. The outrageous phone surcharges hurt the people who can afford it least – the families of inmates.”
The Leadership Conference and its partners are urging the FCC to exert its leadership and address this problem by capping the charges that can be imposed for interstate prison phone calls.