Civil Rights and Public Interest Groups Urge FCC to Cap Cost of Prison Phone Calls

Contact Info: 

Jenn Ettinger, 202-265-1490 ext. 35

WASHINGTON -- On Monday, the Asian American Justice Center, the Center for Media Justice, Communications Workers of America, Free Press, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Council of La Raza, National Hispanic Media Coalition, National Organization for Women Foundation, National Urban League, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge, and the United Church of Christ Office of Communications Inc. filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission urging the agency to cap the cost of phone calls for incarcerated individuals and their loved ones.

To read the comments, go to:  http://www.freepress.net/sites/default/files/resources/3_25_13_Prison_Phone_Justice_Comments.pdf.

“This broad coalition has come together because we believe that policymakers should do everything they can to re-integrate the formerly incarcerated into society and help reduce recidivism,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “By placing a cap on these predatory prison phone rates, the FCC has a chance to help millions of families build stronger relationships with their loved ones in prison, which can help rehabilitate prisoners and better prepare them for productive lives in society.”

The FCC proceeding began in 2003 when Martha Wright, whose grandson was incarcerated at the time, filed a petition urging the FCC to regulate the cost of prison phone calls. Phone calls made from correctional facilities are priced high above market rates, with a 15-minute call typically costing more than $15.

"We appreciate that the Commission has acted on these longstanding petitions," said Free Press Policy Counsel Lauren Wilson. "For too long, phone companies have used hidden fees and sky-high rates to take advantage of inmates and their loved ones. The Commission should move swiftly to exercise its authority and protect those who cannot afford to pay such inflated prices.”

“Predatory prison phone rates are a moral issue,” said Earl Williams, who chairs the board of the United Church of Christ Office of Communication.  “We strongly urge the FCC to take rapid steps to lower the price of long-distance rates that can prevent children from calling their fathers, grandmothers from calling their grandsons and pastors from calling their congregants.”

The coalition of civil rights, social justice and public interest groups came together in 2012 to renew the push for agency action.

"We encourage the FCC to maintain its momentum on this issue and bring a resolution to this decade-long discussion," said Public Knowledge Government Affairs Associate Clarissa Ramon. "Together we have built a strong partnership among allies to fight for regulation of interstate prison phone rates."

Many of the groups are also working at the state and local levels to ensure that intrastate calling is also affordable.

"Over the last year, we've urged the FCC to address the exorbitant rates families are paying," said amalia deloney, associate director of the Center for Media Justice. "States like Louisiana and New Mexico have also taken action, and local officials in Maryland and New Jersey are following suit, each asking the FCC to address the cost of interstate calls. Meanwhile, we’re also working at the state level to close the loop with affordable intrastate rates. Together we can do this, and the time is now."

The coalition urging action on Monday has asked the FCC to weigh public input and issue an order without any unnecessary delay.

"The Commission’s work is not yet finished," said Sarah Morris, policy counsel for the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute. "The Commission has both the authority and the duty to protect the public interest by capping prison phone costs at reasonable and just rates, and it must act promptly to ensure that certain phone companies do not continue to prey on vulnerable families."

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