Historically, the prices to make a phone call from prison are astronomically high, which has been detrimental to family members and loved ones footing the bill. Additionally, the prison system chooses which company provides for them, which often included a “kick-back” profit to the state or the prisons themselves. Under the Communications Act, it is the responsibility of the FCC to ensure that phone rates for a population of Americans remain just and reasonable. *Have you been overcharged for a prison phone call? Read our FAQ/File a Complaint page.
Imagine if the family of someone in prison were required to pay for the cost of prison. And imagine that this tax was on the communication between loved ones and those imprisoned. Every word a grandmother utters to her grandson on the telephone would be another payment to his jailers. Unfortunately, in the United States, this unconscionable scenario is no flight of fancy—the federal government has ignored entreaties to prohibit this practice for almost 10 years. How does this happen? Routinely in this country, prisons and jails charge exorbitant rates to companies who offer secure telephone service for prisoners, and those rates are passed on to the families and loved one who pay for the calls. These telephone companies are often required to bid against one another to offer telephone service—whoever offers the biggest payment to the prison gets the right to offer calls. Prisoners don’t have choice like the rest of us, they get to use only the telephone company selected by the prison. How much do prisoners’ and their families pay for calls? According to a recent study, for long distance calls, many families can pay a connection charge of $3.00 or more plus per-minute rates up to $.89 – resulting in $10 to $17 for a 15-minute collect call. These costs are outrageous when many Americans access services that are either unlimited long-distance plans, or, charge 3 cents per minute with no connection fees. For a prisoner’s family, a 15 minute call per week could cost $120 per month. Are these rates justified by security needs? No. A number of states have reformed their systems, bringing down rates to as low as 5 cents per minute. Don’t we want to encourage contact with prisoners while they are incarcerated? Yes, sadly the federal policy is not only inhumane, but it reduces the chances that prisoners will successfully reintegrate into society when they are released. Strong social networks outside prison help former inmates succeed as law-abiding citizens when they get out.
In August 2013, because of the work of UCC's media justice ministry and our allies, the Federal Communications Commission capped long distance prison phone rates. However local rate still remain uncapped. Currently the FCC is considering taking additional action to lower all rates. Check out updates on prison phone rates on our blog page. Sign up to stay involved.
UCC's media justice and communications rights ministry is grateful for the support from Hollywood for ourcampaign to stop predatory prison phone rates. Ava Duvarnay's acclaimed movie, Middle of Nowhere, is helping with its own action campaign to ask the Federal Communications Commission to take action. You can help by going to see the movie and using our discussion guide and materials to learn more and urge others to join in the effort. • UCC's Discussion Guide for Middle of Nowhere • Is the movie playing in your city? Find out. • Learn more and sign up for updates. You can also use the following tools from the movie producers: online petition urging the FCC to pass the Wright Petition short video from the movie's star, Emayatzy Corinealdi, calling people to action
PK In the Know Podcast - Deep Dive on Prison Phone Rates
• Prison Policy Initiave - Video Visitation Report
• Public Knowledge Prison Phone Page
• Campaign for Prison Phone Justice
• Phone Justice for Immigrants in Detention
• Middle of Nowhere Campaign (film)
Prison Legal News. "Nationwide PLN Survey Examines Prison Phone Contracts, Kickbacks," April 2011. Interfaith, civil rights letter supporting further FCC action on local rates and for people with disabilities. (December 2013). Civil Rights Groups and Conservative Leaders Urge FCC to End Predatory Prison Phone Rates (May 2012). "Criminal Charges: Excessive Prison Phone Rates Take a Toll on Innocent Families," report by the Media Justice Fund of the Funding Exchange, April 29, 2009. American Bar Association detailed legal memo supporting its 2005 resolution favoring the lowest possible rates for prisoners.
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