FCC Takes Action Toward Fair Prison Phone Rates and Stronger Communities

Opens Notice of Proposed Rule Making, marking first major step forward on issue in ten years

Washington, DC – Today the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a critical step toward lowering the cost of calls made from prisons, issuing a further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice applauds the FCC’s action to issue this NPRM, which marks a turning point in the ten- year effort to make the price of inter-state calls from prison affordable. Costing up to 24 times a normal call, prison phone rates unfairly punish inmates’ families, who are forced to cover these calls.

“We applaud the FCC for their leadership and commitment to take action on lowering prison phone rates, and urge the commissioners to move forward quickly to ensure inmates and their families are able to stay connected,” said Steven Renderos, National Organizer with the Media Action Grassroots Network. “An FCC ruling would mean that next holiday season 2.6 million kids will be able to talk to their incarcerated parents without sacrificing basic necessities like food and rent.”

Phone calls made from prisons can cost family members up to $20 for just 15 minutes. To speak with an inmate for one hour each week, families could pay as much as $250 a month on top of regular phone bills. The high costs of prison phone calls do not reflect the cost of service – up to 60 percent of costs go toward commissions for prison agencies. Telephone companies pay commissions to state government agencies in exchange for exclusive contracts at prisons.  The additional cost of these commissions is passed on to inmates’ families.

The FCC’s announcement comes alongside several state and local victories for fair prison phone rates. Following a national rally outside the FCC in November organized by the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, Nebraska, Louisiana, and Cook County, Illinois have all taken steps to lower the rates for inmate telephone calls.

“For too long, families of prisoners have been charged outrageous rates to speak with their loved ones,” said Mel Motel of Prison Legal News. “It was nearly 10 years ago that Martha Wright – a grandmother who was charged $18 dollars to speak with her grandson for just five minutes – first asked the FCC to address this issue. Today’s announcement of the NPRM is an important milestone toward fair phone rates and stronger families.”

“Not only do families benefit from lower prison phone rates, but studies show that communities benefit,” said Nick Szuberla of Working Narratives, one of the original founders of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice. “Keeping prisoners and their families connected helps end the cycle of repeat offenders – which prevents crime and saves communities money.”

Over the next several months, the FCC will receive public comments as they determine how to regulate interstate prison phone calls.

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The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice is a national effort challenging prison phone kickbacks and the U.S. Prison Telephone Industry. The campaign is jointly led by: Media Action Grassroots Network, Working Narratives, Prison Legal News and diverse civil rights organizations.  The campaign is also working with Participant Media as part of the social action campaign for Ava DuVernay's film Middle of Nowhere.