WASHINGTON, DC – Tomorrow, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on a rule to reform the predatory prison telephone rates charged to the families of inmates. Earlier today, civil rights and religious groups and the attorney petitioning the FCC on this issue joined a call to voice their support for reform – citing nearly ten years of FCC inaction.
In exchange for exclusive service contracts, prisons extract commissions from telephone companies. The profits these inflated rates generate – upwards of $60 for a one-hour call – are at the expense of prisoners’ families, many of whom are also enduring other financial and emotional hardships that come with having an imprisoned loved one.
After the call, the participants released the following statements:
Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
“Most Americans don’t realize that it’s about ten times more expensive to call anyone from a prison than to call Singapore from your office desk. The whole point of incarceration is to punish and rehabilitate so the offender can resume his or her life as an upstanding, productive member of society. One way to ensure this is to encourage prisoners to keep their relationships with loved ones on the outside, for moral support, and a safety net to help them readjust to life after being released. But many prisons don’t view these precious relationships as rehabilitative or lifesaving – instead, they view them as revenue generators – ways to pad their bottom line. These extra fees are passed on to prisoners’ families in the form of predatory rates for a literally captive audience.”
Lee G. Petro, Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP, pro bono counsel representing FCC petitioner Martha Wright
“The FCC’s actions fit squarely within its statutory authority to eliminate unjust, unreasonable, and highly unfair rates and practices, which are being imposed on those that are least able to shoulder their impact. We anticipate that the FCC will take a significant step toward providing immediate relief to the millions of those with loved ones in prisons and jails, which has been made possible only through the amazing leadership of Chairwoman Clyburn and dedicated FCC staff.”
amalia deloney, associate director of the Center for Media Justice
“Over 2 million prisoners and their families – including immigrant detainees and deaf or hard of hearing inmates – rely on interstate phone calls to stay connected with loved ones who are usually housed more than 100 miles from home. Companies charge these captive consumers up to one dollar a minute, resulting in a 15 minute call that can cost $17 dollars. Families on the outside pay these costs, and are often forced to choose between a phone call and food. With nearly 3 million children in the U.S. who have a parent who is incarcerated, this is a decision no family should have to make. After 10 years of delayed justice, the commission, under the leadership of Clyburn is expected to reduce the cost of these calls – bringing financial relief to these families and ensuring the fair implementation of the just and reasonable rates principle of the Communication Act.”
Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals
“When distance prevents personal visits, family members are the ones who accept and pay for the collect phone calls and lend a listening ear. Research and long experience show that inmates who maintain regular connection with their family throughout their incarceration have a much higher chance of successful reintegration into society upon their release. In an ideal world, prison phone service would be subject to the same competitive market forces that have driven down phone rates for most Americans to historic lows. Failing that, the Federal Communications Commission should at least cap interstate phone rates at a reasonable level, to prevent abuse of a captive audience and their families. Doing so is not only within the statutory authority of the FCC, it is a responsibility of good governance. Families – both biological and spiritual – are a critical element in the rehabilitation and restoration of their loved ones behind bars. When families break down, the whole community suffers.”
Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau director of the NAACP
“There are over 2.4 million Americans currently incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and jails, 40 percent of whom are African American. The vast majority of these men and women and their families lived at or below the poverty line at the time of their incarceration. Social service experts almost unanimously argue that close communications between incarcerated individuals and their families is key not only to their survival while incarcerated, but also once they return to society. Yet, many of the telephone companies which provide service to prisons and jails charge exorbitant fees, making it difficult for these connections to be maintained. It can be less expensive for you or I to call internationally than for a prisoner to call home into an adjoining state. This paradigm cannot continue. We urge the all members of the FCC to support Acting Chairwoman Clyburn’s thoughtful and important proposal to reign in these predatory and racially discriminatory practices.”
Rev. Geoffrey Black, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ
“Less than a year ago, I joined inmate families as they rallied outside the FCC asking for an end to long distance predatory prison phone rates. Tomorrow the FCC will act under the leadership of Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, who heard the call of justice. We offer Chairwoman Clyburn and her staff our gratitude for taking action and ending 10 years of delay. We are very proud of the role the UCC’s historic media justice ministry played in bringing about the FCC vote.”