FCC Says Prison Calls Could Cost Just $1

(IntegrityTimes.com) – The Federal Communications Commission has announced plans to cease “exorbitant” call costs for prisoners and their relatives. The change could end an era of prison inmates being charged high phone call rates by telecom providers. The regulatory agency stated that the extortionate call charges will be scrapped in July.

As a result of the rule changes proposed by the FCC, per-minute rate caps would be significantly reduced for in-state, international and out-of-state calls made from correctional facilities. The agency said that the change would address the financial burden placed for decades on incarcerated individuals making audio and video calls.

In January 2023 President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan law to enforce fair call rates for prisoners. The bill followed protests for decades from consumer groups and civil rights activists against the extortionate call rates affecting the country’s jails. Reports in 2022 found that the costs of prison phone calls ranged between $50 and $100 a month.

The Just and Reasonable Communications Act, named after Martha Wright-Reed, was passed at Congress in 2022. The law was sponsored by Democratic Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth. Critics of the extortionate fees said that the financial burden they caused took its toll on prisoners less able to speak to relatives and therefore more likely to reoffend after their release from jail. The FCC stated in 2015 that calls could cost as much as $14 a minute.

The fees were protested against by the late Martha Wright-Reed, who was a blind former nurse. Wright-Reed claimed in a 2000 lawsuit she spent $2000 each year to speak to her grandson, who had been jailed for manslaughter. The FCC said it had been empowered by Congress to remove remaining loopholes in the system that affected the families of incarcerated people across the country.

The rules would mean that a 15-minute phone call currently costing as much as $11.35 could cost as little as 90 cents. The law also served the purpose of clarifying the FCC’s authority in regulating the costs of audio and video calls. Campaigners stated in a letter to the FCC that the impact of the high fees only caused depression and loneliness, rather than providing any benefit.

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