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Article on prison phone rates; FCC reforms applauded by HRDC's Campaign for Prison Phone Justice

Houston Chronicle, Oct. 22, 2015.

FCC slashes rates on prison phone calls

By Mike Ward

Updated 12:55 pm, Thursday, October 22, 2015

AUSTIN – Federal regulators on Thursday capped the rates for phone calls from jails and prisons across the country, a step that could affect thousands of Texas families with incarcerated loved ones.

In some cases, rates as high as $17 a minute have been charged. But the Federal Communications Commission ordered those costs cut to a maximum cost of $1.65 for a 15-minute in-state or local call -- a rate of 11 cents a minute – for state and federal lockups and 22 cents a minute from local jails.

The change also will eliminate extra fees for connections and flat-rate calling and will discourage vendors from paying "commissions" from their profits to correctional agencies.

The new rules will cover prisoners in local jails, Texas prisons and federal immigration detention centers.
Service providers had insisted that the higher rates were necessary to cover the costs of extra features, such as call monitoring and call blocking, that were required by corrections departments and local agencies.

"After 12-plus years, millions of friends, families and legal representatives will finally have relief from unconscionable and egregious inmate calling rates," said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. "What may seem like a small step in the overall criminal justice reform effort will go a long way in enabling families to stay connected, which, in turn, should help to reduce our outrageous recidivism and incarceration rates, which are among the highest in the industrialized world."

Passage of the reforms that were supported by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Clyburn were applauded by advocacy organizations comprising Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, along with myriad criminal justice reform and civil rights groups who had lobbied for years for curbs on the high costs of prisoner calls.

The FCC began examining the high cost of calls two years ago after a Washington, D.C. grandmother named Martha Wright detailed how she was paying $1,000 a year to talk to her grandson, according to officials.