The FCC approved an order that it says will reduce rates for interstate phone calls between prison inmates and their families, while ensuring rates are "just and reasonable." Acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel supported the proposal, while Commissioner Ajit Pai dissented.
A 15-minute call between a correctional facility and a family member in another state can cost $17 for a 15-minute call. Such prices have made it challenging for family members, especially those with limited income, from staying in touch.
"We've heard from inmates, many of whom are concerned about the financial burden that calling their parents, significant others, and children can impose," said Clyburn in a statement. "Too often, they are unable to make a simple phone call on birthdays and other special occasions and from these stories and thousands more we have learned just how much of a difference telephone contact can make."
According to various studies, one of the benefits of enabling inmates to maintain regular contact with their family while serving time is it reduces the rate of recidivism. By reducing recidivism, society will gain the benefits of lower crime, additional prisons and other costs and giving nearly 2.7 million children increased communication with an incarcerated parent.
"There are 2.7 million children with at least one parent in prison and they often want and need to maintain a connection," Clyburn said. "In addition to coping with the anxiety associated with a parent who is not there on a daily basis, these young people are often suffering severe economic hardships, which are exacerbated by unaffordable inmate calling costs."
Among the pricing reforms is the adoption of an interim rate cap of $0.21 per minute for debit and pre-paid calls and $0.25 per minute for collect calls. This would decrease the rate of calls from over $17 for a 15-minute call to no more than $3.75 or $3.15 a call.
All of the new rates would include the cost of various security features such as blocking calls to victims, witnesses, prosecutors and other prohibited parties. Other provisions would include caller verification, real-time recording systems, and monitoring to prevent evasion of restrictions on call-forwarding or three-way calling.
Under his proposed plan, Pai would have offered one rate for jails and then a a lower rate for prisons.
Pai said that his proposal for inmate calling would have "cut interstate rates for prisoners in 36 states (and slashed exorbitant rates by more than 50 percent in 26 states) while balancing the need for security."
While the FCC's order may be new, it has its roots in a petition filed in 2003 by Martha Wright, a Washington, D.C., grandmother who sought relief from high inmate calling rates.
- see the FCC's release
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