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FCC cuts exorbitant inmate long distance rates

09 Aug, 2013

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to “ensure that the rates for interstate long-distance calls made by prison inmates are just, reasonable and fair.”

The vote came after a lengthy campaign by families of the incarcerated, and with support from groups like the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. It began, said the FCC, when Martha Wright, a Washington, D.C. grandmother filed a petition a decade ago. As Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said, in the words of the late Sam Cooke, “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come.”

Unfortunately, it was not a unanimous vote: Commissioner Ajit Pai had offered his own proposal, and refused to join with Clyburn and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. But, even Ajit Pai, who voted against the final resolution, agreed that “the FCC should have acted [on this] years ago’.”

At the webcast hearing, Clyburn and Rosenworcel both pointed out that 2.7 million U.S. children have at least one parent in jail or prison. And most studies agree that family contact is the best way to prevent inmate recidivism.

But it’s been difficult for families to stay in touch when, as the Los Angeles Times noted, “A 15-minute phone call can cost $17, more than 10 times the average per-minute rate for typical consumer plans.”

The FCC plan doesn’t put telephone costs on a par with most people, but it moves prices in that direction. Among other things, it mandates:

“... an interim rate cap of $0.21 per minute for debit and pre-paid calls and $0.25 per minute for collect calls, dramatically decreasing rates of over $17 for a 15-minute call to no more than $3.75 or $3.15 a call.”

In addition, the order also clarifies that deaf or hard-of-hearing inmates who use relay services to communicate with relatives cannot be charged higher rates. A further notice of proposed rulemaking seeks comments on reforming prison call rates within states.

Speed Matters applauds the commission’s actions today, and hopes that this order lifts a burden from individuals and families who are already being punished by loss of freedom.

FCC bars high rates for long distance phone calls in jails and prisons nationwide (FCC news release, Aug. 9, 2013)

After emotional hearing, FCC votes to lower inmate phone rates
(LA Times, Aug. 9, 2013)

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