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All Ears On The FCC – Voting Today on Prison Phone Price Gouging

GRAPHIC: The FCC will vote today on a proposal to roll back the high rates that telephone companies charge for prison inmates to make and receive calls. Courtesy Colorlines.com
GRAPHIC: The FCC will vote today on a proposal to roll back the high rates that telephone companies charge for prison inmates to make and receive calls. Courtesy Colorlines.com
August 9, 2013

WASHINGTON – All ears will be on the Federal Communications Commission today, as the FCC votes on a proposal to roll back the high rates that telephone companies charge for prison inmates to make and receive calls.

Most phone companies pay prisons commissions in exchange for service contracts, and the extra fees are passed on to prisoners' families.

As a result, a one-hour call from behind bars can cost more than $60.

Lee Petro is spearheading a legal effort more than a decade old to moderate charges, and he expects some – but not complete – action from the FCC.

"This is the first step, I think, in providing uniform relief," he says.

It's expected the ruling – to be detailed prior to the vote – will address intrastate prison phone rates, and will not deal with interstate calling, which Petro says makes up about 20 percent of prison calls.

He adds the government should not stop there.

"We've argued that the FCC should adopt a proposal for both interstate and intrastate calls and hopefully, at the end of the day they will," he explains.

Phone calls play a key role in rehabilitation by keeping inmates in frequent contact with their families – something the Federal Bureau of Prisons acknowledges.

Hillary Shelton of the NAACP affirms that.

"But we also know that – as we've spoken to even criminal defense lawyers – that these very exploitive prison rates also make it quite difficult for them to maintain contact with their legal counsel, creating all kinds of problems with their representation," he explains.

Prison officials cite security issues in not pushing hard for phone rate reform.

But Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals says it's more important to reduce recidivism.

"If in fact phone rates are one of the problems that are keeping that from happening, then that itself is a security concern,” he says. “And we need to get the phone rates down so that we can get people re-connected with their families."

The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, made up of some 55 groups nationwide, is crediting the work of volunteers and non-profits for pushing the FCC to action.


Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - VA