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 could cost about $17. Inmate’s families, many without economic resources, were being gouged by telephone companies that 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, the prison received commissions from the exorbitant charges paid by inmate’s and inmate’s families.
For example, Phone Justice for Immigrants in Detention reported that Global Tel*Link paid Contra Costa County in California, a commission of up to 57% on phone calls, in addition to a $75,000 bonus for awarding the exclusive contract. The county received $653,506 in commissions from Global in 2011-12 for the Contra Costa West County Detention Facility.
Prisonpath.com has posted about the unsavory practices of the prison telephone companies in previous articles such as “Predatory Prison Telephone Companies-Updated” and in “A Victory Against Predatory Telephone Rates.”
The FCC voted 2-1 during an emotional meeting to cap interstate phone rates at 21 cents a minute for debit or prepaid calls and 25 cents a minute for collect calls.The new rates will be effective in approximately 120 days. FCC acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said the FCC will initiate another regulatory process to decide what to do about intrastate rates.
Many law enforcement officials, criminal justice experts and policymakers have agreed that inmate’s contact with family and friends reduces inmate recidivism. Reduced recidivism increases public safety and reduces taxpayers’ costs for prisons and jails.
Martha Wright-Reed’s grandson Ulandis Forte, now a former inmate, was present during the vote by the FCC. He rubbed tears from his eyes during the voting.