Prison Phone Call Rates: FCC Wants To Lower Costly Inmate Charges

The rates charged for making a phone call from prison put an unfair burden upon the families of inmates seeking to stay in contact with their incarcerated loved ones, says the FCC.

The Federal Communications Commission is seeking to change what they consider to be a “government-sponsored monopoly” that forces inmates to rack up charges and fees by use of an interstate inmate calling service. The commission went public on Friday to announce proposed rules preventing this type of gouging.

CNN News reports that prisoners in some areas are currently shelling out upwards of $16 for a single state-to-state telephone call lasting just 15 minutes. The reason for such a high cost often comes from exclusive promotions between phone service providers and prisons. The prison will typically receive high dollar commissions for each prisoner call as part of the deal.

The Federal Communications Commission wants to lower prison phone call charges by instituting a benchmark rate for interstate calls and a cap for charges incurred. It also seeks to challenge exclusive agreements between prisons and service providers.

An article by TakePart writes that the end of 2012 saw the release of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the commission in response to the outrageous call rates. The commission opened its agency to public comments about the case on Friday. FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said the following:

“With 700,000 individuals released every year from these institutions, it is crucial that we do whatever we can to strengthen family ties before these individuals return home. One sure way to realize this is through the provisioning of affordable phone service. The overall costs of not doing so are too great, for those who re-offend place a substantially higher economic burden on taxpayers than any lost proceeds that would result from lower prison phone rates.”

Activists have been fighting for lower prison call rates for a number of years. Courts have previously stated that fair pricing measures would be difficult to determine without guidance from the Federal Communications Commission.

Members of the Center for Media Justice organization reached out to the commission in an effort to garner their involvement. The result was the rule notice issued by the Federal Communications Commission in December. The proposal will remain open to public comment for a 60 day period before a list of suggested compliance rules will be drafted.

Steven Renderos, National Organizer with the Center for Media for Justice, spoke to TakePart regarding the commissions’ involvement:

“The FCC’s action has other states taking up the issue on the local level. Louisiana recently lowered rates in their state [institutions]. Nebraska lowered rates in county jails. A former county sheriff in Florida has come out wanting lower rates. What we’re seeing is that the prison telephone industry is alone in its efforts. Now it’s about determining what constitutes fair pricing. That’s going to take more public input.”

What do you think of the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to regulate prison phone call rates?