The Federal Communications Commission voted in a 2-1 decision to cap how much a prison phone service provider can charge for a 15-minute long-distance call.
The FCC decided that prison phone service providers can only charge a maximum of 25 cents per minute on long-distance calls, meaning a standard 15-minute long-distance call won’t exceed $3.75.
Two-Fold Decision Making
The decision was made for two main reasons. First, the FCC decided to place limits on the rather unregulated sector because they felt certain price setting techniques were getting out of hand. Prior to the federal order, many companies were charging as much as $20 for a 15-minute phone call. This meant that families who spoke to their loved one in prison once a week for 15 minutes were sometimes hit with a $100 bill at the end of the month.
The expensive charges also factored into the FCC’s decision for another reason. Chairman Mignon Clyburn said if families can afford to stay connected with their loved ones, the likelihood that the prisoner will commit another crime is lessened. Clyburn added that 2.7 million children have a parent in prison.
“It’s been a long, long time coming,” said Clyburn.
Phone Companies Object
Telecommunications giants Global Tel*Link, Securus, and Century Link objected to the ruling, saying prison communications are more expensive to operate than regular service plans.
They also added that a portion of the fees go to the prisons to pay staff salaries and benefits, and fund in-house educational programs. In 2012, prisons in 42 states received just over $100 million in commissions from the telecommunications providers.
Attorney Miriam Szatrowski comments
In situations where a parent is incarcerated, the rest of family is often left struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table. Accepting collect calls at current rates, even short ones once a week, is just not an option for these families.
People in the Illinois Department of Corrections are frequently incarcerated far from their homes, so without phone calls, they have no contact with family members at all. This causes children to be cut off from their parents, and makes it much harder for incarcerated people to maintain family connections that make it easier to reintegrate into their families and communities upon release. This new rule will make a huge difference for Illinois inmates and their families, allowing them to stay in touch and stay connected.
Related source: Washington Post