FCC Gives Valentine Present to Inmate’s Families & Friends
On February 11, the FCC’s new regulations to curb the predatory telephone charges for inmate’s families and friends were implemented. Before these new regulations were enacted, interstate phone calls between inmate’s families and their family members in prison were costing $1.00 or more a minute. The new rate caps are 25 cents for a collect call, 21 cents per minute for debit or prepaid calls, and no more than $3.75 for a 15-minute collect call and $3.15 for a 15-minute debit or prepaid calls. This common sense decision took ten long years.
In 2003, Martha Wright-Reed filed a petition asking the FCC to regulate the excessive inmate phone call rates. The petition was filed on behalf of inmate families after a judge had dismissed a lawsuit filed by her against a private prison company. She had filed the lawsuit because it was impossible to keep up with the high phone bills with her grandson who was incarcerated. The judge had referred Martha Wright-Reed to the FCC.
The FCC has said inmates or their families were being charged fees that ranged from 50 cents to $3.95 just to place calls. The additional per-minute rates ranged anywhere from 5 cents to 89 cents. A 15 minute call costs about $17. Inmate’s families, many without economic resources, were being gouged by telephone companies who had exclusive contracts with the prisons.
Global Tel*Link is one of the major players in the $1.2 billion business of providing phone service to private and government prisons, according to Bloomberg. The mobile, Alabama-based company has about half of the correctional phone services market and Securus Technologies has about 30%. Both companies make excessive profits with exclusive contracts with prisons. The major prison telephone companies and the prisons have a de facto partnership. As part of the contract, a prison receives commissions from the exorbitant charges paid by inmate’s and inmate’s families.
Prisonpath.com has posted about the unsavory practices of the prison telephone companies in previous articles such as “Predatory Prison Telephone Companies-Updated.”
For many inmate’s families, they could not afford such exorbitant telephone calls. Reduced or no telephone communications impeded ties between inmates and their families and friends. Social studies have shown that close family communications maintains the family unit and ultimately reduces recidivism.
This was not a complete Valentine’s day present since the telephone companies have since filed petitions in court seeking relief and since the new regulations do not cover in-state telephone calls.
By Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com
This is a very positive development for all of our client who are in custody. I wonder if a similar challenge could be made through another federal agency (i.e. Consumer Financial Protection Board?) to stop the excessive fees being charged to put money on an inmate’s account. Our local city jail which has the US Marshal contract to house pretrial detainees charges approximately 15-25% to put money on an inmate’s books.
Thank, God! Finally families of prisoners will get some relief from outrageous phone bills! The less communication a prisoner has with family, the bigger the target he is for abuse and medical neglect.
In Toronto defense lawyers absorb costs of calls from jail. No help with families. All local calls are collect. 80 cents
This is good news. I realize it will not help a lot of people calling intrastate which frankly is probably most, but at least we are regulating it somehow. Now we need states to do the same thing.
This is an excellent article Bradley. Thank you for sharing it. I love SF!
Thanks Brian, hopefully, other cities and states will follow SF lead. By Bradley
This has been a long time coming! It’s a tax on people who can least afford it. It’s a good point that inmates with family contact are safer from medical neglect; it’s also important in reducing recidivism to help prisoners keep in touch with family, strengthening family ties.
I also agree with Craig’s point about the fees charged to deposit money in an inmate’s account. And I would add, the high charges for food, music, books, and clothing in prison commissaries – the only source available to most inmates.