Three phone companies are trying to charge some of the nation’s poorest grandmothers, fathers, and children upwards of $1.00/minute to talk on the phone with those dearest to their hearts. And these families have no choice but to pay the high cost; if they don’t, they won’t be able to hear their loved one’s voice.
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.
Last year, almost 37,000 SumOfUs members called on the Federal Communications Comission (FCC) to cap the cost of phone calls to prisons, and the FCC implemented new rules capping interstate rates. But the FCC’s current regulation doesn’t go far enough: most families with loved ones in prison pay in-state phone rates, and they can still be gouged by unscrupulous phone companies.
Tell the FCC it needs to keep going: Help ALL kids stay in touch with their parents by regulating the in-state rates that the prison phone companies can charge.
Experts know that having regular calls with and visits from family while incarcerated can make people far less likely to go back to prison, but the incredibly high cost of phone calls to and from prison makes it hard for incarcerated people to keep in touch. Considering the billions of dollars our states spend annually on incarceration, it is in the state’s interest to ensure maximum contact with families.
We need strong regulations because many states have an incentive to give prison phone companies sweetheart deals. According to a report from the 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.
We know that allowing corporations to have monopolies in any market is bad news for consumers. Greedy executives benefit by profiting off the increasingly privatized criminal justice system. 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.
We know our collective voices were heard by the FCC last time we spoke out -- the very first paragraph of their report to cap interstate rates directly cited SumOfUs.org. The FCC has made a great start, and now it’s time to finish the job by ensuring that ALL families can afford to stay in touch.
Submit your comment to the FCC on prison phone price-gouging. We’ll work with our allies at the Prison Policy Initiative to submit your comments to the FCC before the December 13 deadline.
Prison Reform Advocates Speak Up for the Voiceless. Rolling Stone, August 2013.
The Price to Call Home. Prison Policy Initiative report, September 2012