FCC cuts predatory phone rates to reconnect prisoners’ families

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FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn champions the fight for prison phone reform

by Chinyere Tutashinda, Media Action Grassroots Network

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn

Washington, D.C. – On Oct. 22, 2015, at an open meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed proposed rules that substantively reform what advocates call a broken prison and jail telephone industry. The industry is dominated by Global Tel-Link, which controls 50 percent of the market for correctional institutions, and Securus.

According to an infographic produced by the Center for Media Justice (CMJ), and an article authored by the Prison Policy Initiative, the new rules will, among other things:

  • Cap predatory prison phone rates at 11 cents per minute for calls from state and federal facilities and 22 cents per minute from jails.
  • Eliminate abusive hidden fees like connection and flat-rate calling fees.
  • Strongly discourage, but not directly ban, industry “commissions,” or kickbacks, of vendor profits to correctional facilities.

“After 12-plus years, millions of friends, families and legal representatives will finally have relief from unconscionable and egregious inmate calling rates,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. “I am grateful for the tireless advocacy of the Media Action Grassroots Network who brought this issue to my attention three years ago and continued to passionately push for relief for the most economically vulnerable in our society.

“Today, the FCC will make a real difference for the families and friends of 2.4 million inmates and their 2.7 million children. What may seem like a small step in the overall criminal justice reform effort will go a long way in enabling families to stay connected, which, in turn, should help to reduce our outrageous recidivism and incarceration rates, which are among the highest in the industrialized world.”

According to a report released last week by a coalition of groups, including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Forward Together, one in three families go into debt because of the high cost of maintaining contact with incarcerated family members. A fact sheet from CMJ indicates that without FCC reforms, some families are charged as much as $17 for a 15-minute conversation.

When Wandjell Harvey-Robinson, a member of the Illinois Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, was in third grade, both her parents were incarcerated – and prison phone rates made it difficult to stay connected. On Thursday, she celebrated at the FCC. – Photo: Center for Media Justice
When Wandjell Harvey-Robinson, a member of the Illinois Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, was in third grade, both her parents were incarcerated – and prison phone rates made it difficult to stay connected. On Thursday, she celebrated at the FCC. – Photo: Center for Media Justice

The package of reforms ushered in by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and passed by the regulatory agency was heralded by advocate organizations that comprise the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, along with myriad criminal justice reform and civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

“In passing the most comprehensive reforms to date to the prison phone industry, champions like Commissioner Clyburn listened to those long considered voiceless – the families of the 2.4 million people incarcerated in the United States,” said Malkia A. Cyril, executive director at the Center for Media Justice and co-founder of the Media Action Grassroots Network.

“While there is more work to do to ban commissions and protect the right to in-person visitation, the dozens of organizations and almost 200,000 individuals who fought long and hard for this day should be proud. It’s long past time to reform the unreasonable rates predatory companies impose upon on a captive consumer base.”

Chinyere Tutashinda, communications organizer for the Center for Media Justice and Media Action Grassroots Network, can be reached at Chinyere@mediajustice.org. The Media Action Grassroots Network is a project of the Center for Media Justice, a 501c3 organization. With over 175 affiliate members nationwide, MAG-Net is the only racial justice network exclusively focused on media rights, access and representation.

4 COMMENTS

  1. As a person outside the US with a friend in the California prison system I ask you to support applying similar caps to international calls. I currently pay $1 per minute.

  2. The CA prison system has made it difficult for outside support and family to receive calls from friends and family who are incarcerated. For instance people in the SHU cannot call at all, and now that many have been moved to general population, they need access to phone cards they can also buy themselves, because GTL, the only commercial operator of the CDCr phone system, makes it difficut and not cheap to send money to the phone accounts for a prisoner to call to a friend or family member. For instance, people overseas have to pay for a phone account via western union, which charges between 10 to 15 USD to send money abroad! We cannot use paypal or credit cards issued by overseas banks to pay for some phone time for our friends and loved ones. And this in the time of Skype, Hangout and other cheap or no-cost phoning…

    GTL also does not allow us to get a local number in CA so that our friends can call us cheaply. Here in The Netherlands, prisoners can buy phonecards at canteen for a few Euros, and they can also use the cheap international calling cards if someone sends them the code to type into the phone. The phones are monitored, but no one is earning off the prisoners, family and friends!
    In some States in the US the phones are actually reasonable for those on the outside and in (CO, amongst others, even LA, which uses another commercial monopolist).

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