FCC takes historic stand to control the predatory prison and jail phone industry

by Leah Sakala, August 9, 2013  

This afternoon the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a new set of regulations to control the exploitative prison and jail phone industry. Currently, prisons and jails grant exclusive contracts to telephone companies that charge families outrageous bills and kick back a hefty portion of the profit to the correctional facilities. But now, the FCC is finally stepping up to the plate to protect families from having to choose between staying in touch and paying the bills.

While the official text for the order and notice won’t be available until next week, today the FCC announced that the regulation will mandate:

  1. That “all interstate inmate calling rates, including ancillary charges, be based on the cost of providing the inmate calling service.”
  2. Interstate rate caps of $0.21/minute for debit and pre-paid calls and $0.25/minute for collect calls, and “safe-harbor” rates of $0.12/minute for debit and prepaid calls and $0.14 cents/minute for collect calls. The rates must also include the costs of security features and technology.
  3. The expense of kickbacks back to prisons and jails must not be factored into interstate rates or charges
  4. People who need assistive hearing or speech services not be charged higher rates
  5. A call for “mandatory data collection, annual certification requirement, and enforcement provisions to ensure compliance with this Order”

The FCC also opened a new comment period to gather information on two topics:

  1. Regulating in-state rates
  2. Encouraging competition to bring down rates

Advocates for fair phone rates have been calling for regulation for more than a decade, beginning with a 2000 class action lawsuit brought against the Corrections Corporation of America and several prison phone companies. A federal judge decided that the case fell under the jurisdiction of the FCC, where it sat for years. Today’s ruling marks the first definitive action from the FCC to control the broken prison and jail telephone industry.

This victory was the result of a strong and sustained campaign, and we are proud to be celebrating with our movement partners. Stay tuned for a more in-depth analysis next week when the details are available!

11 Responses

  1. Doreen Loomis says, 1 hour, 26 minutes after publication:

    A CHEAPER way as well is to go to GOOGLE VOICE…this is a FREE feature! The family types in the information for that city where the prison is located and google gives you a local number for the inmate to use to call the family member. This number will be forwarded to a cell phone or landline and the inmate only pays .38 cents for a 15 minute phone call. That’s how it is in St.Cloud MCF…..

    1. Peter Wagner says, 3 months, 1 week after publication:

      My understanding is that almost all prisons (or prison phone companies) block Google Voice numbers. But the facilities that don’t — and where local calls are cheaper — this is a good idea.

  2. YOLANDA VILLEGAS says, 1 day, 23 hours after publication:

    That way they keep people in jail it big money

  3. Peter says, 2 days, 3 hours after publication:

    —What is the effective date for this new rule — when are carriers REQUIRED to provide these rates?
    —What is a “safe-harbor” rate? If the carrier provides the “safe-harbor” rate, does that mean they go in a less-regulated category where they won’t get audited as often?
    —We pre-pay our calls, but the service always treats it as a collect call “do you choose to accept a collect call from an inmate (recording of their voice saying name).” How can we pre-pay, but it still gets treated as collect? Why can’t we have something that specifies that this inmate DOES have permission to call our number, and cut the middle-man out of the deal so we don’t pay COLLECT rates when we have already PREPAID?
    —This doesn’t say anything about connection fees. Right now we’re charged about $5 just for the connection, in addition to the ridiculous per-minute fee. Is anything being done to prevent ripoff connection fees? Again, if I have prepaid, there shouldn’t BE any connection fee at all, just as there should be no collect-call rates.

    1. Leah Sakala says, 2 days, 17 hours after publication:

      Hi Peter,

      Those are all really important questions. On Friday the Commissioners released a summary of their regulation, but the official text isn’t yet available. We’ll be able to sort out important details, like the ones you raise, when we can take a look at the full texts of the order and new notice. Stay tuned.

      -Leah

  4. When is a customer not a customer? (In prison.) | Prison Policy Initiative says, 1 week, 3 days after publication:

    [...] looks like some relief for families is in sight, at least in the prison phone industry. The FCC has voted to rein in charges for the most expensive interstate calls, and may take more action in the future. But there’s [...]

  5. Phil Johnson says, 1 week, 6 days after publication:

    As a criminal defense and public defender attorney for 40 years, this is the most enlightened, no-brainer move I have seen in this arena. It’s about time. I cannot wait to see the details from FCC.

    Now, let’s move with something more than glacial speed to level the playing surface.

  6. Prison phone giant Securus cashes in, raises fees | Prison Policy Initiative says, 3 weeks, 5 days after publication:

    [...] the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) drags its feet on regulating the prison phone industry, the industry is wasting no time raking in the profits. Just this week, Securus, the second largest [...]

  7. 2013 has been our best year yet! Can you support us for 2014? | Prison Policy Initiative says, 3 months, 2 weeks after publication:

    [...] people. In Aaugust, after ten years of inaction, the Federal Communications Commission finally voted to regulate the industry so that families will no longer have to pay $1/minute to stay in touch [...]

  8. Donovan says, 9 months, 2 weeks after publication:

    Correctional facilities require the contact information given to them by the inmate the ability to be crossed referenced for security purposes. If the number the friend or family is using cannot be validated it can be blocked (The FCC states this is a security concern). Google Voice was not specifically designed to be used for inmate calls and they don’t register or update the information in any data base thus making the information unverifiable by the law enforcement or the facility. Google Voice numbers have also been defined as call forwarding which is prohibited for use within prisons (correctional facilities). Google Voice numbers may not be able to supply the number specific to the inmates facility, therefore it is suggested to go through an FCC registered company. Please keep in mind some companies actually go through Google Voice to obtain numbers for their customers and then resale them even though they aren’t approved by the facility.

  9. The Father's Day Profiteers That Put Hallmark to Shame | Leah Sakala says, 10 months, 1 week after publication:

    […] home from prison or jail for over a decade. Last August, the Federal Communications Commission finally approved regulations to bring down the astronomical phone bills families are forced to pay for the most expensive calls […]

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