Groups Call for Additional Reform on Prison Phone Rates
January 16, 2015 - Posted by Patrick McNeil
A coalition of civil rights, faith, labor, media justice, and other groups from around the country this week wrote in support of further reforms to lower predatory prison phone rates.
The letter urges the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to eliminate site commission payments, which can drive up rates. The letter also calls for backstopping rates with local caps reflective of competitive rates outside prisons, jails, and detention facilities – especially since the majority of calls to and from those facilities are local.
In addition, the letter asks the FCC to consider the needs of prisoners with disabilities since “The deaf and hard of hearing community face unique challenges while incarcerated or detained,” and says the “reliance on outdated technology for incarcerated people is not acceptable.”
In February 2014, after more than a decade of advocacy, several prison phone rate reforms went into effect, including a 25-cents-per-minute cap on interstate collect calls. The FCC also banned prison phone-service providers from charging extra fees to connect a call or to use a calling card. In September, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn issued a joint statement announcing they were circulating proposals on further prison phone rate reform, noting that “many families of inmates still face exorbitant rates for in-state calls, not to mention punitive and irrational fees – all of which make the simple act of staying in touch unaffordable.”
These reforms are particularly important to the civil rights community because high prison phone rates place an unfair financial burden not only on prisoners, but also on their families and loved ones. According to an October 2013 report by The Leadership Conference Education Fund, in-person visits are often too expensive for the families of prisoners who may be incarcerated hundreds of miles away, leaving phone calls as “the most reliable and practical method of maintaining relationships with parents, children, spouses, siblings, and friends.”