Federal Communications Commission Takes First Steps in Prison Phone Rate Reform
August 22, 2013 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
By Taahira Thompson, a Summer 2013 Intern
After more than a decade of advocacy by civil rights organizations and affected individuals, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to reform predatory prison phone rates on August 9. The rule puts a cap on how much prison phone-service providers can charge the recipients of an inmate’s call at 25 cents-per-minute. The FCC also banned the providers from charging extra fees to connect a call or use a calling card.
“This important policy reform will benefit millions of families that must choose between staying in touch with loved ones and putting food on the table,” Henderson said in a statement issued on the day of the vote. “Today, Acting FCC Chair Clyburn has shown what's possible when the commission uses its power to improve the lives and well-being of everyday families.”
Telephone companies offer prisons commissions as high as 60 percent, which end up being passed on to loved ones of those in prison, many of whom are already struggling financially. This practice preys on Americans experiencing extreme hardship and strains connections and relationships that are essential to ensuring successful rehabilitation. With current rates, an hour-long phone call can cost as much as $60.
“There are over 2.4 million Americans currently incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and jails, 40 percent of whom are African American,” said NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton, in a statement issued last week. “The vast majority of these men and women and their families lived at or below the poverty line at the time of their incarceration. Social service experts almost unanimously argue that close communications between incarcerated individuals and their families is key not only to their survival while incarcerated, but also once they return to society. Yet, many of the telephone companies which provide service to prisons and jails charge exorbitant fees, making it difficult for these connections to be maintained.”
The civil rights community is urging the FCC to fully staff the inmate calling services proceedings and issue an order before the end of 2013 to adopt the lowest feasible benchmark rates for inmate calling services.