The FCC Just Made Prison Phone Calls Affordable

The decision slashes rates that could run as high as $14 a minute

Prison Policy Initiative

Families of the nearly 2.4 million incarcerated Americans scored a huge win today as the Federal Communications Commission moved to limit the heretofore excruciatingly high rates on prison phone calls.

The decision either caps or eliminates fees commonly tagged on service providers, and set the maximum call of a 15-minute in-state call or local call at $1.65 with a lower per-minute rate. That’s a steep decline from the staggering $14 a minute some people have been paying. The regulations will not only affect federal and state penitentiaries but immigration detention centers, with state prisons seeing the impact of the changes around February 2016 and jails changing their billing by May.

For millions of kids who couldn't afford to talk to their parents regularly, this is huge.

Prison Policy Initiative

This will not only save families from having to chose between paying the light bill and letting a dad talk to his son (this woman paid $3,000 a year to speak to her husband about an hour a week) but, also, maybe you from getting mugged. Studies show more frequent contact between inmates and the outside world reduces recidivism rates, though with most inmates coming from low-income families, who can little afford the bill, maintaining those ties can be near impossible. The economics at work here target African-American families the worst. Try not to be too shocked.

Or as author and Harvard doctoral candidate Clint Smith put it: “There are 2.7 million children who have at least one parent in prison. Phone calls are often the only way they can maintain a relationship.”

The Prison Policy Initiative, an inmate advocacy group long seeking a change in rates, also praised the decision.

“Thank you Commissioner Clyburn, Chairman Wheeler, and Commissioner Rosenworcel for taking such strong action to protect the most vulnerable families in this country from this exploitative industry,” wrote Executive Director Peter Wagner.

Companies designing prison call systems have already threatened legal action over the decision.

Prison Policy Initiative

But Securus Technologies, which has become a billion-dollar company locking down the prison calling market, is ready to fight. Last Thursday, the Dallas-based tech firm along with industry leaders Global Tel Link and Telmate threatened legal action over any regulations saying they’d have a “devastating” effect on their business in a filing with the commission.

“Representatives of the various parties reiterated that their companies would suffer irreparable, immediate harm under the regulatory approach described in the fact sheet, and further forecast that this harm would be sufficient to support a stay of the order in court,” they wrote, claiming the high fees were necessary because their systems must contain call-recording features.

Securus CEO Richard Smith has not softened in the last week.

“Today, the FCC made a colossal error in judgment, law, and public safety and policy,” he said in a statement.

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