Advocates Deliver 40,000 Petitions to FCC Calling for Fair Prison Phone Rates

Phone Calls from Prison to Families at Home Can Cost up to 24 Times a Normal Call

Washington, DC – More than 40,000 petitions were delivered to the FCC today by families of prison inmates, national advocates and prison chaplains urging Chairman Genochowski to end predatory prison phone rates by passing the Wright Petition. Costing up to 24 times a normal call, prison phone rates unfairly punish inmates’ families, who are forced to cover these calls.

Yesterday the FCC took the first step to protect families from unfair prison phone rates by issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on interstate phone call rules and rates.

“I have spent over $25,000 over the last 10 years just trying to stay in touch with my son in prison,” said Lillie Branch-Kennedy. “There is no reason prison agencies and phone companies should be profiting off of families like mine, forcing us to choose between putting food on the table or keeping in touch with our loved ones. We rely on these calls to stay focused on building a new, healthy life together after our loved one’s release.”

Phone calls made from prisons can cost family members almost $20 for just 15 minutes. To speak with an inmate for one hour each week, families could pay as much as $250 a month on top of regular phone bills. More than 2.7 million kids in the United States have a parent in prison and rely on phone calls to provide stability, comfort and a sense of normalcy. 

Studies also show that keeping inmates and their families connected helps prevent the cycle of repeat offenders -- which prevents crime and saves communities money.

  • According to a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Center on the States, almost half of prisoners in the U.S. return to prison within three years;
  •  But if 41 states reduced their recidivism rate by just 10 percent, they would save $635 million in one year.
The recent film Middle of Nowhere by Ava Duvernay has also helped shine a light on families impacted by unfair prison phone rates. The 40,000 signatures were collected in conjunction with the film through Participant Media, Sum of Us/Prison Policy Initiative, and the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice.

The Wright Petition would lower prison phone rates nationwide by stopping corporate commissions. Today, the high costs of prison phone calls do not reflect the cost of service – 60 percent of costs go toward commissions for corporations and prison agencies. Telecom companies pay for exclusive contracts at prisons, then pass this cost to inmates’ families.

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The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice is a national effort challenging prison phone kickbacks and the U.S. Prison Telephone Industry. The campaign is jointly led by: Media Action Grassroots Network, Working Narratives, Prison Legal News and Participant Media as part of the social action campaign for Ava Duvernay's film Middle of Nowhere.