Why can these companies get away with this? Because the loved ones in this story are in prison -- and these three phone companies have exclusive deals with 45 states that allow them to charge obscenely high fees for incarcerated people to use the phone.
These companies think they can act with impunity because you’ve never heard of them. But we have a real opportunity right now to stop this prison profiteering. The Federal Communications Commission is finally considering regulating this behavior, to bring long-distance rates for incarcerated people in line with what those of us outside of prison pay.
Tell the FCC: Help kids stay in touch with their parents, and sisters in touch with their brothers by regulating the prison phone companies so that they charge reasonable rates.
Experts know that having regular calls and visits from family while incarcerated can make people far less likely to go back to prison. Considering the billions of dollars our states spend annually on incarceration, it is in the state’s interest to ensure maximum contact with families.
But instead, according to a new report from Prison Policy Initiative:
Prison phone companies are awarded these monopolies through bidding processes in which they submit proposals to the state prison systems; in all but eight states, these contracts include promises to pay “commissions” -- in effect, kickbacks -- to states, in either the form of a percentage of revenue, a fixed upfront payment, or a combination of the two.
These prison phone companies are part of a growing sector of the economy that profits off public responsibility. From food to health care to the entire prison, more and more elements of incarceration are being run with an eye for maximizing profit. The largest company, Corrections Corporation of America, made $1.7 billion in revenue in 2011, overseeing disproportionaly violent and unsanitary prisons in dozens of states.
In this increasingly privatized environment, the biggest beneficiaries are greedy executives and shareholders. On the other side are the families of the 2.7 million children in the U.S. who have a parent in prison, who have to choose between a weekly call with their loved ones and putting food on their table.
At SumOfUs.org, we usually focus our energy squarely on pressuring corporations directly. But in instances like this where the corporations are essentially nameless actors with no consumer-facing business, we have no choice but to appeal to the government to step in.
For a decade, the FCC has been receiving requests to force the prison phone companies to charge fair rates. But the FCC is refusing to regulate these outrageous fees. Our allies at Prison Policy Initiative believe that an onslaught of comments from people like you could be what it takes to get the FCC to start regulating prison phone rates.
Use the form at right to submit your comment to the FCC on prison phone price-gouging. Prison Policy Initiative will deliver it to the FCC once we’ve collected 20,000 comments.
The Price to Call Home (Prison Policy Initiative report), 11 September 2012
Truth About Prison Phones, Huffington Post, 5 September 2012
The Bankrupt-Your-Family Calling Plan, New York Times, 22 December 2006
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