Today, justice-reform advocates including Color Of Change, MediaJustice, Worth Rises, Free Press Action and United Church of Christ held a virtual press conference calling on Congress to include the COVID-19 Compassion and Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act in the next relief bill.
This crucial legislation, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in May, would bring relief for millions of families with incarcerated loved ones struggling with the exorbitant costs of phone calls during this pandemic. More than 75,000 supporters have signed online petitions in favor of the legislation.
A recording of today’s press conference is available here.
Scott Roberts, senior director of criminal justice campaigns at Color Of Change, said: “For many families with incarcerated loved ones, exorbitant fees for phone calls to and from prisons force them to decide between estrangement or economic instability. Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic puts even more financial stress on families and makes prison visitation all but impossible, the firms who operate these calls are threatening to price-gouge these families — who are overwhelmingly Black and low-income — out of their only option to keep in touch. Congress must rein in the prison telecommunications industry and pass the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act to keep families together in this time of crisis.”
Bianca Tylek, executive director of Worth Rises, said: “Now more than ever, families with incarcerated loved ones are desperate for relief as they struggle to juggle the costs of keeping in touch with the new, pressing economic realities of COVID-19. In recent weeks, even the conservative-led FCC has joined families and advocates in emphasizing the urgency of affordable prison phone calls during this moment of crisis. There is no time to waste. We are all looking to Congress to hear the people and heed the people by including prison phone justice in the next pandemic relief bill.”
Myaisha Hayes, campaign director at MediaJustice, said: "The prison phone industry has a long history of preying and exploiting incarcerated people and their families. For more than a decade, families have been calling for relief from the high price of staying connected to their loved ones behind bars. The demands to keep families connected hasn’t stopped. Now 75 thousand people have signed our petitions urging Congress to act. Given the economic hardship that so many families are facing in light of this pandemic, now would be the time to truly stand up for families who need to confirm the health and safety of their incarcerated loved ones"
For years, prison-telecommunications firms have exploited incarcerated individuals and their families, charging excessive fees for phone calls. Now, with visitation cancelled at most jails and prisons in the wake of COVID-19, these sky-high rates threaten to price-gouge families out of their only remaining option to stay in touch.
The COVID-19 Compassion and Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act would grant the FCC the legal authority to stop the predatory behaviors of prison-phone operators. If passed, it would immediately reduce rates to 4-to-5 cents per minute — down from up to $1.67 per minute. Justice-reform advocates from Color Of Change, MediaJustice, Worth Rises, United Church of Christ and Free Press Action are now calling on Congress to enact this critical piece of legislation immediately.
Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor at the United Church of Christ’s Media Justice Ministry, said: “In a time when our country is focused on the importance of affordable communication during a pandemic, the value of Black Lives, and the systemic flaws in our criminal justice system, it just makes sense for Congress to ensure that no one can be charged predatory rates to talk to their loved ones in prison, jail or detention. The Christian tradition teaches us that incarcerated people are worthy of dignity and respect in every way — whether it is the right to fair treatment inside, support reintegrating into society or the ability to speak to a child without sacrificing economic security. The time for Congress to act is now.”
Lucia Martínez, digital campaign manager from Free Press Action, said: “Incarcerated people and their families are forced to pay astronomical rates to stay connected: In some states, a 15-minute local prison phone call costs up to $25. The pandemic has made the situation that much worse: The virus is spreading rapidly within prisons, jails and detention centers, and phone calls are the only way for families to connect. The high cost of prison-phone calls is a cruel and unnecessary barrier that prevents incarcerated people from accessing legal services and connecting with their loved ones. Right now, Congress can provide immediate relief by passing a pandemic stimulus bill that would cap and help lower the cost of prison-phone rates. Over 75,000 people and counting have signed petitions in support of this effort — and on Tuesday, Free Press Action will join our allies in a digital delivery of these petitions to the Senate.”
More information on this campaign to write phone justice for incarcerated individuals into federal law is available here.