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Civil Rights Groups Say Phone Rates For Prisoners Not Justified

by Lucas Eaves, published

phone rates for prisoners

Last December, the FCC decided to address the issue of rates for inmate calling services (ICS) and provide guidelines for phone rates for prisoners. Following the 60 days period for public comments, the FCC will soon publish a set of compliance rules. Tweet it: Tweet

For years, civil rights groups have fought to lower the rates of prison phone calls. With prices as high as $18 for 15 minutes, these rates put a heavy financial burden on inmates families who end up paying the bill. Share it: Tweet

Despite the fact that it is widely accepted that an increased communication between inmates and their families are a key component to the reduction of recidivism, these prices remain high.

In forty-two states, phone companies have to pay the prison a commission fee that can reach up to 60 percent of revenues generated from prison phones. In the eight states that banned such commission payment, the prices have dropped dramatically -- 69 percent in New York, 64.5 percent in Montana, and 61 percent in California -- according to a study made by Prison Legal News.

Prison facilities justify these commissions for security reasons. ICS differs from traditional payphone services in a number of ways, including a blocking system to prevent inmates from calling certain individuals like judges or witnesses. Prison facilities also require most calls to be recorded and monitored.

The extra requirements that go with ICS result in additional costs for correctional facilities which are funded by the commissions they receive from the phone companies. The Louisiana Department of Corrections told the FCC that "it is only fair that the cost of providing telephone services to offenders be borne by the offenders and their families and not the tax payers at large."

Civil rights groups, however, argue these security costs are not enough to justify the prohibitive rates of ICS. For example, a fifteen-minute Global Tel Link call costs $2.36 in Massachusetts and $17.30 in Georgia, making the attribution of the costs to security measures improbable.

In most cases, once phone companies obtain a contract, they have a monopoly in the prison. Therefore, the attribution of contracts will not be based on providing the best price for prisoners, but on offering the best commission to the prison. It is in consideration of that "government-sponsored monopoly that the FCC decided to consider changing its rules.

Opponents and proponents of reforming ICS pricing had 60 days to inform the FCC of their opinion. Now, the agency will have to weigh the cost for prisons to organize ICS, the counter -productive effects of high phone rates for inmates, and the role of private companies who provide a service in a very specific environment.

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