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FCC Takes Aim at Sky-High Prison Phone Call Rates

For media inquiries, contact: Karlos Gauna Schmieder, consultkarlos@mediajustice.org, 505 363 4962
Public Comment Sought Through January 5, 2015

Washington, D.C. - With one out of 28 children in the U.S. with parent in prison or jail, today’s request for public comment by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) signals a continued response to calls from families across the country to rein in the high cost of making phone calls to and from America’s prisons.

"The FCC vote last August was a start to helping my family stay connected,” said Bethany Fraser, a mother of two with an incarcerated loved one. “It is as important to me as the air we breathe that my kids - all kids - are able to keep contact with their parents. But in our country almost 3 million children are the invisible victims of incarceration.”

Fraser’s advocacy, along with the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice and its allies, moved the FCC to cap the cost of calls crossing state lines in February of 2014, which led to a nearly 80% decrease in interstate phone costs in some states. Yet the vast majority of those behind bars make calls in-state and face charges up to $6.75 for a 15 minute call, with as much as $15 million dollars a year being paid as kickbacks to the government, according to the Human Rights Defense Center, which tracks data on prison phone call costs across the 50 states.

Today, the FCC announced it is seeking public comment on their proposal to consider further steps to cap rates for all calls from prison, correctional facilities and detention centers; eliminating fees and ancillary charges and continued reforms for video calls and disabilities access.

The voices of millions of Americans who pay inflated costs of calls to and from prisons have been the foundation of the FCC’s moves to champion caps to the high cost of in-state and interstate prison phone calls” said Steven Renderos of the Media Action Grassroots Network, a partner in the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, “we urge people to comment and we compel the commission finish the job they started to ensure all communications from prisons are affordable for the millions of families with incarcerated loved ones.”

The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice is asking those who are impacted by the high cost of prison phone calls to submit their stories through www.phonejustice.org to be filed by the FCC’s deadline of January 5, 2015.

A state by state movement has blossomed in states such as California, Illinois, Washington, New Jersey, Minnesota, New Mexico, and elsewhere, and groups hope to use this comment period to put a human face on the human cost of barriers to communication with loved ones.

Advocates Speak to FCC: 

“It is gratifying after all these years to see the FCC continuing the push to eliminate the exorbitant rates and fees that prisoners' must pay to stay in touch during times of incarceration. The FCC took the critical first step when it capped interstate prison phone rates last year, but intrastate (in-state) rates represent 85% of calls made from detention facilities, and the families of prisoners making those calls are also entitled to communications services at just and reasonable rates. We encourage the FCC to take all steps necessary to ensure that inmate calling services are accessible for all prisoners and their families, by ordering permanent rate caps on prison and jail phone calls, eliminating per-call connection fees, prohibiting site commissions, and eliminating ancillary fees that must be paid to maintain inmate calling accounts." Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC)

"We look forward to providing the FCC with information about the devastating impact of predatory phone rates on the families of immigrant detainees and others in New Jersey correctional facilities. Currently, most in-state calls from jails are far more expensive than out of state calls. New Jersey families pay up to $8.50 for a fifteen minute call. We need FCC action to address the high prices of all calls from prisons and jails. The current unfair rates only cause innocent children to suffer and make it more difficult for former detainees to rejoin their communities."  Karina Wilkinson, New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees

“In Illinois, commissions constitute 76% of phone charges, bringing in over $12 million to the Illinois Department of Corrections per year.  Practices like this need to be curbed. It’s not right that families of incarcerated loved ones in Illinois should be punished for trying to stay in touch.  Compare Illinois to states like New York and New Mexico, which have no commissions and charge roughly five cents a minute for a phone call.  This disparity demonstrates this can be done differently and the FCC is the agency who can deliver affordable prison phone calls to all families of prisoners.” James Kilgore Coordinator of the Illinois Campaign for Prison Phone Justice

“We look forward to the public comment period as an opportunity to provide information on company practices in our state as well as well as present the stories of incarcerated people and their families concerning the hardships excessive telecommunications charges continue to impose. In addition, we are eager to offer comment on the related issues of video visitation and the special needs of the deaf.” Christina Mansfield of CIVIC an organization leading a campaign for state prison phone reform in California

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The Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) is a local-to-local advocacy network of over 175 grassroots community organizations working together for media change to end poverty, eliminate racism, and ensure human rights. www.mag-net.org