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Bill Would Give FCC Power to Cap Outrageous Intrastate Calls Between Inmates and Their Families

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

In 2013 and 2015, the Federal Communications Commission placed caps on how much companies can charge inmates (through their families) for in-state and out-of-state phone calls. The move was welcomed by criminal justice reform advocates who had been fighting for more reasonable calling rates for more than a decade.

Prison phone companies fought back, however, and in 2017, the U.S.Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to set rates for in-state calls between inmates and their loved ones.

A new bipartisan federal bill aims to address the issue by giving the FCC clear legal authority to cap outsized calling rates.

“Our bipartisan legislation will help make sure that prison telecommunication rates are fair so family members can more easily afford to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones, improving the odds that rehabilitated offenders will be able to become productive members of society upon their release,” said U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who authored the bill along with Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

Research has consistently shown that contact with family is extremely important for a former offender’s successful reentry into their community, but many families simply cannot afford to visit loved ones locked up far from home.

Less than one-third of state inmates nationwide receive visits from loved ones in a typical month, according to according to a 2015 analysis of government data by the Prison Policy Initiative.

The rarity of in-person visits for many inmates makes prison phone calls even more critical for maintaining family ties. Yet contractors gouge inmates’ loved ones with fees that can add up to hundreds of dollars a month—far beyond the means of many low-income families.

“Incarcerated Americans rely on calling services to maintain support systems and bonds with their families — connections that have proven to reduce recidivism and prison violence,” said Senator Booker. “Yet our broken criminal justice system allows these calling services to charge exorbitant and prohibitively expensive rates that are as high as $400 to $500 per month. Our bipartisan bill would address this long-standing injustice by allowing the FCC to protect consumers against these unfair rates.”

The 2017 appeals court ruling found that existing law, which said that intrastate and interstate calling must be “fair,” meant that fairness only applies to phone companies, which include Global Tel-Link and Securus, not customers.

“The goal of promoting competition among payphone providers shouldn’t come at the expense of subjecting incarcerated Americans to outrageous prices,” said Sen. Booker.

The proposed Inmate Calling Technical Corrections Act would clarify the law and establish that the fairness also applies to inmates and their families, who should receive reasonable call rates.

“The bill also clarifies that the FCC’s authority to regulate prison and jail phone calls includes all types of calling technology; this is particularly timely as many of the companies are pushing video calling to circumvent phone call regulation (and monetize visitation),” said the Prison Policy Initiative, one of the bill’s sponsors.

“People in prison should not have to pay exorbitant fees just to talk on the phone with their kids, their clergy, or their counsel,” added Senator Schatz, the ranking member on the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet. “It’s bad for human rights, it’s bad for our justice system, and it’s bad for our taxpayers. With this bill, we’re giving the FCC the authority to fix the problem once and for all.”


Image: ACLU – 2013 rel="noopener" target="_blank">video on prison phone call gouging.

12 Comments

  • Simple solution to the problem, don’t be that person that breaks the law, gets arrested and goes to jail or prison. Q.E.D.

    Sometimes the answer to even a “complex problem” is staring you right in the face.

  • The terms “deterrence”, “punishment”, “victims rights” and “public safety” are a foreign language to “criminal rights advocates”. It definitely seems the criminal rights side of the criminal justice system has a much bigger voice, cheering section and loudspeaker than the victims rights proponents.

    It’s clear that many on the progressive/liberal spectrum, don’t believe there should be any difference whatsoever between jail/prison life and the life, and everyday freedoms “law abiding” individuals enjoy. Basically these individuals are advocating the abolishment of jails/prisons by attacking their policies, rules and practices in order to tear them down “brick by brick”. It’s a crafty ploy in this age of lawsuits and legislation by “court case”.

  • Maj Kong- It is that simple. How is that different from my solution to your problem. Specifically, you gentlemen always bitch about being LEO and how difficult it is or how lawyers and BLM are making it harder. Don’t bitch, quit. Sometimes the solution is staring you right in the face.

    And, for someone who wraps himself in the flag and constitution, I would think that the idea of being innocent until proven guilty would mean something to you. Not everyone in jail has been convicted, and, as we regularly see on this site, not everyone convicted is guilty. Many are there through the “liberties” you an your ilk take with the evidence and facts. How many of your uniformed brethren are getting on DAs’ shitlist across the country because you lie so much.

    Conspiracy, you can’t really be that stupid or believe that there are some who do not believe in punishment or jails? Are you? What people have an issue with the dis proportionality of the punishment to the crime or the stupidity and futility of what you want to punish people for. Sending people to prison for smoking weed, for example, is the height of stupidity, and hypocrisy when even your colleagues smoke the good herb once in a while. As is sending blacks to prison for years for an amount of crack that is a fraction of the cocaine a white man has and only gets jail time for.

    • No…are you an idiot? Of course you would pick marijuana (I’m not up on the term “weed”) as an example of sentencing “dis-proportionality” as you call. Do you honestly believe anyone is talking about harsh sentencing for what used to be simple infraction crimes akin to moving violation ticket? Now if someone had a sizeable quantity of “weed” as you call it and was selling the stuff…well okay…I think that should have been against the law and worth of stuffed penalties.

      I like how you use the vernacular “herb” and weave race into all your posts. I can definitely tell your very well acquainted with the stuff.

        • WOW….”sarcasm”, “irony”, “satire”….all terms foreign terms these days that evoke the of “dear in the headlights” response.

  • Cf-2 ,projecting much? Why don’t you tell us where your LEO career went so wrong. Every one of your posts is like a desperate little plea for understanding.

  • Quit calling him CF, his name is Reg and always has been. Yeah we’re shipping them off by the hundreds to the “joint” for smoking one.

  • Where were all these families at when these inmates were committing crimes? If you can’t do the time don’t do the crime.

  • Actually, it is not the people in prison who pay the fees – it is the pastors, grandmothers, families who typically pay. Further all of our safety is jeopardized by these high rates. As Newt Gingrich has been pointing out, the prison system is suffering from a huge failure rate as people recidivate once they get out. Solid connections with family members and community members will help get formerly incarcerated people jobs, homes and permit them to reintegrate into society. Without communication while they are in prison, they are more likely to commit more crimes thus leading to less public safety.

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