The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to slash what it called “excessive rates and egregious fees” that families have to pay to call their relatives in prison. Currently, calls to inmates can cost as much as $14 a minute.
Under the new plan, calls will cost no more than $1.65 for 15 minutes. Rates will be slightly higher in jails that have less than 250 inmates, and free for inmates with disabilities.
“While contact between inmates and their loved ones has been shown to reduce the rate of recidivism, high inmate calling rates have made that contact unaffordable for many families, who often live in poverty. Reducing the cost of these calls measurably increases the amount of contact between inmates and their loved ones, making an important contribution to the criminal justice reforms sweeping the nation,” the FCC said in a statement.
The new rates will go into effect in 90 days, and the FCC has pledged to closely monitor the implementation of the new reform; communication providers will be asked to disclose rates and fees.The federal agency said it began implementing changes amid concerns about the high cost of calls in 2013, after Martha Wright, a grandmother from Washington, D.C., said she was paying about $1,000 a year to talk to her grandson.
Lee Petero, a lawyer who represented Wright pro bono, said the agency’s reform effort will “lead to immediate relief to millions of families and specially the 2.7 million children who have at least one parent in jail and want to stay in touch,” NBC News reported.
“Calls that used to cost a dollar a minute now could be as low as 11 cents,” said Aleks Kajstura, legal director at the Prison Policy Initiative, a criminal justice reform group that has been pushing to make prison calls more affordable. “Studies show keeping communication in between families members and incarcerated loved ones reduces recidivism, and that helps us all.”
The FCC decision comes a week after Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and 15 other Democrats wrote a letter to the agency’s chairman Thomas Wheeler in support of his reform effort. The lawmakers were critical of the existing system, which they said has profited from charging inmates “unreasonably” high call rates.