After years of work to limit astronomical phone rates in jails and prisons, we have reached a significant milestone! At today’s open meeting in Washington, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 2-1 to cut the rates that prisoners and their families pay for interstate phone calls. Historically, the high cost of long-distance calls from prisoners to their loved ones across state lines has negatively impacted families-damaging the relationship between inmates and their children, increasing the likelihood of recidivism, and ultimately, decreasing public safety.
The FCC released a summary of the rule on its website. The new rule includes the following:
- Requires that all interstate inmate calling rates, including ancillary charges, be based on the cost of providing the inmate calling service
- Provides immediate relief to exorbitant rates:
- Adopts an interim rate cap of $0.21 per minute for debit and pre-paid calls and $0.25 per minute for collect calls, dramatically decreasing rates of over $17 for a 15-minute call to no more than $3.75 or $3.15 a call
- Presumes that rates of $0.12 per minute for debit and prepaid calls ($1.80 for a 15-minute call) and $0.14 cents per minute for collect calls ($2.10 for a 15-minute call) are just, reasonable and cost-based (safe-harbor rates)
- These rates include the costs of modern security features such as advanced mechanisms that block calls to victims, witnesses, prosecutors and other prohibited parties; biometric caller verification; real-time recording systems; and monitoring to prevent evasion of restrictions on call-forwarding or three-way calling
- Concludes that “site commissions” payments from providers to correctional facilities may not be included in any interstate rate or charge
- Clarifies that inmates or their loved ones who use Telecommunications Relay Services because of hearing and speech disabilities may not be charged higher rates
- Requires a mandatory data collection, annual certification requirement, and enforcement provisions to ensure compliance with this Order
While a success, it is important to recognize that the FCC rule is limited to interstate phone rates.
Justice Fellowship is a longtime advocate of lower prison phone rates. We are grateful for the over 4,000 people that signed a petition that we sent to FCC asking for lower phone rates. Thank you all for your commitment to “remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison” (Hebrews 13:3).