Experiencing life while a loved one is imprisoned can strain your emotions and relationships, but it shouldn't strain your pocketbook.The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found that the cost of phone calls from incarcerated friends and family members is at an all-time high, and they are committed to changing that. In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC brought the issue to light, finding that most inmate calls are nearly 15 times more expensive than regular phone calls.
The problem initially came to the agency's attention after Martha Wright complained about her $200 a month phone bill in 2003. The Washington D.C. woman talked to her grandson who is in prison for 15-minutes on a weekly basis and became fed up with the costs.
Several civil rights groups joined together to back Wright's complaints by filing a civil-action lawsuit on her behalf. However, a judge dismissed the case and referred Wright to the FCC.
FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn says that since then, "tens of thousands of consumers" have "written, emailed, and yes, phoned the commission, pleading for relief on interstate long distance rates from correctional facilities."
Although unfamiliar to most phone users, Global Tel*Link and Securus Technologies Inc. are the two companies responsible for the majority of prison phone calls.
Steven Renderos, a national organizer for the Center for Media Justice says that the companies attribute their high rates to "the security features their technology has" including monitoring calls and blocking phone numbers.
However he believes that the technology alone is not enough to add up to $15 for a 15-minute call.
The Center for Media Justice reports that the rates for prison phone calls vary from state to state.
"For example, in Alabama the commission rate is 61.5 percent, and this translates to families having to pay 89 cents a minute on top of a $3.95 connection fee every time a family member receives a call," Rederos explained.
"Eight states have banned these commissions-California, South Carolina, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Michigan and Missouri-and in those states you see some of the lowest rates for phone calls. For example Missouri charges ten cents a minute for a long-distance phone call with a $1 connection fee. The average commission rate in states that haven't banned these commissions is 43 percent."
The FCC suggests that a "monopoly" is created when correctional institutions partner with ICS providers in an exclusive contract rather than offering traditional payphone services. In their notice, the agency also added that while most people can choose among multiple calling services, inmates are limited to phones operated by the contracted provider of the facility.
Clyburn suggests that the public should rally behind the FCC's action to lower rates for inmate calls in an effort to strengthen our community.
"Maintaining contact with family and friends during incarceration not only helps the inmate, but it is beneficial to our society as a whole. There are well over two million children with at least one parent behind bars and regardless of their circumstances, both children and parents gain from regular contact with one another. Studies also show that those released are less likely to reoffend if they are able to maintain relationships with their loved ones while they are in prison."
The FCC will receive responses about their proposal from the public for two months.