The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously voted on Thursday to approve a plan that decreases interstate and international prison and jail phone call rates, making phone calls more affordable.
The plan lowers the rate of interstate and international prison and jail phone calls by at least one-third. Prison phone calls cannot exceed 12 cents per minute, and jail phone calls cannot exceed 14 cents per minute. Previously, rates could not exceed 21 cents per minute. The new rates align with the Federal Prison Industries hourly minimum wage of 12 cents per hour.
This order only applies to interstate and international phone calls. Because it does not apply to intrastate calls, phone justice advocates have asserted that the plan is inadequate, as 80 percent of jail and prison calls are intrastate. Previously, the FCC attempted to decrease intrastate phone call rates. However, in 2017 a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to do so because intrastate calls are not within the FCC’s jurisdiction.
Incarcerated individuals must use the telephone service providers offered by their prison or jail. Global Tel Link and Securus Technologies LLC dominate among telephone service providers. Combined, they have contracts with 5,400 correctional facilities in North America. Global Tel Link addressed the new measure, stating: “[W]hile we disagree with certain points in the draft order, we believe lower rates will benefit incarcerated individuals and their families and friends.” Similarly, Securus explained: “[W]e share the same goal as the FCC: to increase value and affordability of services in a thoughtful and innovative manner.”
Studies have shown that recidivism rates are lower among incarcerated individuals who regularly contact family and loved ones. When inmates are hundreds of miles away from family and loved ones, phone calls are one of the only methods to maintain contact. High phone call rates, however, may cause incarcerated individuals and their families to go into debt. Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel emphasized that, “[W]hen a single call can cost as much as most of us pay for an unlimited monthly plan, the financial burden of staying in touch can be too much to bear.”
Rosenworcel stated that this plan is not the last action the FCC will take and that more needs to be done. Senator Tammy Duckworth has sponsored the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act, which would decrease intrastate rates. A bill that would allow incarcerated individuals to make free phone calls is pending in the Connecticut state legislature.