Today, the Federal Communications Commission’s order to lower prison phones rates was published in the Federal Registrar triggering a 90-day window for the rules to take effect. As of March 17, 2016 all prisons, jails and detention facilities will need to lower their rates according to the FCC’s rules. The new rates will be capped at 11 cents for state and federal prisons, 14 cents for large jails and 22 cents for smaller jails.
For the estimated 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent, these reforms will finally eliminate the financial barriers that prevent meaningful communication. For those incarcerated on the inside, affordable phone calls will help maintain the bonds with their family and community on the outside necessary for re-entry.
“We applaud the FCC’s leadership in once and for all ending predatory phone rates,” said Steven Renderos, from the Center for Media Justice. “We especially want to thank Commissioner Mignon Clyburn for her leadership in shepherding the commission to pass these vital reforms. On March 17, 2016 change will finally come to millions of families.”
What happens next?
The prison telephone companies have 10 days to challenge the FCC’s rules in court. These corporations have indicated their intent to sue the FCC and could prevent some or all of the rules from taking effect until after the lawsuit ends. The court may also allow the rules to go into effect while considering the lawsuit. The Center for Media Justice alongside the D.C. Prisoner’s Rights Project, Human Rights Defense Center, and a set of impacted family members are prepared to file a motion to intervene in support of the FCC’s order.
The FCC is now turning its attention to another issue: video visits. The commission is accepting public comments on the cost and practices associated with video visits. Correctional facilities across the country have begun adopting video visits as a replacement for face to face contact between families and their incarcerated loved ones. There is some evidence that the cost of video visits is riddled with the same predatory practices that existed with telephones. Initial comments to the FCC are due January 19, 2016.