Credo Action

Tell Congress: End predatory phone rates for families of incarcerated people

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The petition to Congress reads:

"Charging exploitative phone rates to incarcerated people and their families is wrong. Pass the Inmate Calling Technical Corrections Act."

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    Tell Congress: End predatory phone rates for families of incarcerated people

    When seven people died during an outbreak of violence in a South Carolina prison in April, state officials didn't blame prison conditions or the lack of adequate guard staffing – they blamed cell phones. In a press conference about the horrific event, their response was to call for cell phone-jamming technology in prisons.1

    Meanwhile, the same companies that make cell phone jammers are charging incarcerated people and their families predatory rates for phone calls on approved phones – even local calls. Families can pay up to $17 for a 15-minute local call to an incarcerated parent, child or loved one.2

    Charging exploitative phone rates to incarcerated people and their families is wrong. But prisons get a percentage of companies' profits as a kickback, so they have no incentive to act. If states won't step in to protect against these predatory practices, then Congress must.

    Tell Congress: End predatory phone rates for incarcerated people and their families.

    Phone calls are a lifeline for families to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones. A 2015 survey found that more than one in three families of incarcerated people go into debt simply to pay for phone calls and visits.3 Staying in touch helps children connect with their parents and helps incarcerated people maintain ties that help them rejoin society when they are free.

    President Obama's Federal Communications Commission set a limit on how much prison phone companies could charge inmates and families. But Donald Trump's FCC refused to defend the rule from a legal challenge, so now, there is again no upper limit to exploitative charges.

    Sen. Tammy Duckworth, along with cosponsors Sens. Booker, Schatz and Portman, recently introduced legislation that would limit the sky-high rates that companies can charge for prison phone calls.4 The bill would apply to all inmate communications regardless of technology, so video visitation services and other advanced communications services would be covered as well.

    The U.S. prison phone industry is big business worth $1.2 billion, and it will be fighting back.5 So will the prisons getting kickbacks. To end predatory prison phone rates once and for all, we need to speak out against this abusive system.

    Tell Congress: End predatory phone rates for incarcerated people and their families.

    References:

    1. Teddy Kulmala, "'Cellphones didn't kill 7': SC prison warden should step down after riot, group says, The State, April 17, 2018.
    2. Sam Gustin, "A new bill could finally ban predatory inmate phone costs," The Verge, March 13, 2018.
    3. Ella Baker Center, "Who pays? The true cost of incarceration on families," Sept. 2015.
    4. Gustin, "A new bill could finally ban predatory inmate phone costs."
    5. Ibid.