Regulating the prison phone industry
Some children have to pay $1/minute to talk to an incarcerated parent. Why? Because prisons and jails profit by granting monopoly telephone contracts to the company that will charge families the most.
For more than ten years, families had been calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide relief from the exorbitant bills that the prison phone companies charge just to stay in touch. Recognizing yet another way that mass incarceration punishes entire communities, the Prison Policy Initiative joined with partners across the country to help generate the research and advocacy that was necessary for change.
On this page:
- our two major reports
- our 7 major briefings to the FCC
- our video
- reports from our organizing work
- highlights of the press coverage about our work
- our blog posts on the topic
- other great press coverage
- and links to our allies in this movement.
The Price To Call Home: State-Sanctioned Monopolization In The Prison Phone Industry
by Drew Kukorowski, September 11, 2012
In addition to submitting our reports, we've been submitting regular updates to the FCC docket with new data and information and responses to FCC requests.
- Correctional facility type and phone regulation, January 13, 2014
- Third party fees in the prison phone market, January 13, 2014
- Video visitation and email services, December 23, 2013
- The multiple incarnations of kickbacks that prison phone companies give to prisons and jails, August 1, 2013
- A searchable version of the 12-375 and 96-128 prison telephone dockets, July 17, 2013
- The difference between prisons and jails, July 17, 2013
- Since 'Please Deposit All of Your Money' some small companies have lowered their fees and improved policies, while other companies have been discovered to have charges and policies even worse than previously understood, July 17, 2013
- Peter Wagner's presentation at the FCC's July 11, 2013 Workshop on Reforming Inmate Calling Services
- On December 13, 2013, in partnership with SumOfUs, we submitted a petition with 23,585 public comments urging the FCC to regulate in-state prison phone call charges.
- On September 26, the FCC released its Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, detailing the new regulation of the prison phone industry (a nuts-and-bolts summary of the regulation is on our blog).
- On Friday August 9, 2013 the FCC voted to approve regulation of the prison phone industry. Missed seeing it live? Watch the FCC's video of the meeting, and stay tuned for more details when the official text of the ruling is available.
- Peter Wagner presented on a panel at the FCC's public day-long workshop about regulating the prison phone industry on July 10th, 2013 in Washington, DC.
- The NAACP passed a resolution calling on the FCC to regulate the prison phone industry.
- We are honored to have signed on to comments submitted to the FCC on March 25, 2013, and reply comments submitted April 22, 2013, with Martha Wright, et. al., The D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project. Inc., Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, and The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice.
- On December 26, 2012 the Federal Communications Commission issued a Notice for Proposed Rulemaking, taking the first step towards federal regulation of prison calling rates.
- At a rally on November 15, in partnership with SumOfUs, we submitted a petition to the FCC signed by 36,690 people around the country calling for federal regulation of predatory prison telephone rates.
- Congressional Representative Keith Ellison cited our prison phone report in an October 2, 2012 letter to the Federal Communications Commission calling on the commission to regulate prison phone rates.
- Congressional Representatives Henry A. Waxman and Bobby L. Rush cited our prison phone report in a September 12, 2012 letter to the Federal Communications Commission calling on the commission to take action to lower prison phone rates.
Our work in the news
- Serial's $2,500 Phone Bill and the Prison-Calling Racket, by Joshua Brustein, Bloomberg Businessweek, December 17, 2014
- Jail contractor calls for end to free local phone calls, by Dermot Cole, Alaska Dispatch News, December 13, 2014
- Editorial: A price too high for calls from jail, by Editorial Board, The Dallas Morning News, November 10, 2014
- Alabama inmates can call home for less under new phone plan approved by Public Service Commission, by Mike Cason, AL.com, October 8, 2014
- Federal regulators float an aggressive new plan to cut the cost of prison calls, by Nancy Scola, The Washington Post, September 25, 2014
- It's a bad idea to limit jail inmate visits to video, by Bob Ray Sanders, Star-Telegram, September 14, 2014
- [San Francisco] Officials looking to reduce price of jail inmates' phone calls, by Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2014
- Orange Is the New Green: Is Knox County's New Video-Only Visitation Policy for Inmates Really About Safety -- or Is it About Money?, Cari Wade Gervin, Metro Pulse (Knoxville, Tenn.), July 2, 2014
- The Father's Day Profiteers That Put Hallmark to Shame, by Leah Sakala, Huffington Post, June 13, 2014
- Video Visitation Could Exploit Prisoners, or Help Families, by Peter Wagner, "Room for Debate" The New York Times, February 24, 2014
- FCC Bests Prison Telephone Industry Just in Time for Valentine's Day, by Leah Sakala and Peter Wagner, Huffington Post, February 12, 2014
- FCC caps rates for prison phone calls, by John Ketchum, Marketplace Wealth and Poverty, Thursday, February 12, 2014
- Phoning From Prison, at Prices Through the Roof, by David Segel, New York Times, February 2, 2014
- Unfair Phone Charges for Inmates, New York Times editorial, January 6, 2014
- Prison Phone Call Industry Will Fight New FCC Rules Lowering Rates For Inmates, by Matt Sledge, Huffington Post, September 9, 2013
- FCC caps cost of phone calls to prison inmates, by Andrew McGill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 10, 2013
- Regulators vote to reduce rates for prison phone calls, Ian Simpson, Reuters, August 9, 2013
- The Tyranny Of Prison Phone Charges: 'Inmates Charged Five Times Usual Rate', by Matt Stroud, Forbes, July 21, 2013
- Phone Companies In State Prisons Charge Inmates Exorbitant Prices, Give Jails Kickbacks, Group Finds, by Alexander C. Kaufman, International Business Times, June 18, 2013
- Counties profit from inmate calls, by Dan Klepal, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 16, 2013
- Why does it cost so much for prisoners to keep in touch with their families?, The Economist, May 25, 2013
- Prisons rob inmates by gouging phone call prices, RT America, January 4, 2013
- FCC proposes changes to lower pay-phone rates for prisoners, by Christina Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2012
- Hi-Priced Cell Calls, Brian Lehrer Show, December 12, 2012
- Costly Prison Phone Calls Frustrate Families, by Maggie Clark, Stateline, December 4, 2012
- A Needless Charge for Prison Families, by the New York Times editorial board, November 28, 2012
- Kickbacks exploit inmates’ families, by Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Chicago Sun-Times, November 27, 2012
- Prison-industrial complex charges inmates enormous fees for phone calls, RT America, November 20, 2012
- Prison-Phone Rate Cuts Considered by U.S. Regulators, by Todd Shields, Bloomberg Businessweek, November 15, 2012
- State PSC considers lowering ‘sinful’ prison phone rates, by Katy Reckdahl, The Lens, November 15, 2012
- The Price to Call Home: State-Sanctioned Monopolization in the Prison Phone Industry, by Drew Kukorowski, reprinted and adapted for Prison Legal News, October 2012 issue
- FCC Looks Likely to Cap Phone Rates for Prisoners, by Kaukab Jhumra Smith, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, October 12, 2012
- Prison Phones Prove Captive Market for Private Equity, by Todd Shields, Bloomberg Businessweek, October 4, 2012
- A Dollar a Minute to Talk to Dad, letter to the editor by Kaytee Riek and Rob Wohl of SumOfUs, Valley Advocate, October 4, 2012
- Kickbacks and Exorbitant Charges Rife In The Monopolized Prison Phone Industry, Pete Brook, Prison Photography Blog, October 2, 2012
- The First Call Is Free; the Rest Are a Fortune, Nancy Scola, American Prospect, October 1, 2012
- Families Urge the FCC to Lower Price of Prison Phone Calls, Jorge Rivas, Colorlines, September 27, 2012
- Campaign Pressures FCC to Roll Back Exorbitant Expense of Prison Phone Calls, Melinda Tuhus, Between the Lines, September 26, 2012
- Costly Phone Calls for Inmates, by the New York Times editorial board, September 24, 2012
- Flying Kites to the FCC Demanding Fair Phone Call Rates for Prisoners and Their Families, Mike Ludwig, Truthout, September 21, 2012
Our blog posts on the topic:
- Support prison phone justice on this Giving Tuesday!
Generous friends have agreed to match any donations to PPI through 2014, making your gift go twice as far.
by Leah Sakala, December 2, 2014
- New video explains jail telephone industry’s hidden fees
One company produces a video explaining to Sheriffs how the status quo is bad for them.
by Peter Wagner, November 25, 2014
- New opportunity to weigh in on FCC prison phone regulation
Join us in telling the FCC to ensure that ALL families can afford to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones
by Leah Sakala, November 21, 2014
- Dallas County approves video visitation contract
Today, in a partial reversal, the Dallas County Commissioners Court approved a new contract with jail telephone giant Securus.
by Peter Wagner, November 11, 2014
- Sheriff Joe Arpaio phases out in-person visits in Maricopa
Infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio replaces in-person visits with video visitation
by Bernadette Rabuy, November 10, 2014
- New FCC prison phone regulation proposal play-by-play
Will the FCC ban commissions, cap all calling rates, and eliminate fees?
by Leah Sakala, October 27, 2014
- FCC considers next steps to protect families from predatory prison and jail telephone industry.
We need your help now to counter the powerful prison phone lobby.
by Peter Wagner, October 17, 2014
- Next Steps on prison and jail phone reform: Joint statement by Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn
"The wheels of justice turn slowly, but today we prepare to take the next critical step toward reducing the high price paid by inmates and their families to communicate"
by Aleks Kajstura, September 26, 2014
- FCC Commissioners are proposing to protect families from in-state prison phone gouging
Two commissioners circulate a proposal that would extend last year's historic ruling protecting some families from the predatory prison and jail telephone industry.
by Peter Wagner, September 25, 2014
- Tired of corporate stalling, petitioners submit prison phone companies’ own data to FCC
Martha Wright and her fellow petitioners mine prison phone companies' state-mandated disclosures to submit rate data to the FCC when the companies refuse answer the basic questions themselves.
by Aleks Kajstura, September 23, 2014
- Dallas County rejects Securus video visitation contract!
Dallas County tells Securus: No we won't end visiting hours at jail and require expensive video visitation instead.
by Peter Wagner, September 9, 2014
- Dallas Texas to consider banning free in-person visits, requiring expensive video visits instead
Later this morning, Dallas County Texas will vote on a new telephone contract with Securus that will also ban free in-person visits and require families to pay for video....
by Peter Wagner, September 9, 2014
- CenturyLink and Pay-Tel offer a peek down the rabbit hole of the prison phone industry
Where 96% isn't 96% and clients aren't clients.
by Leah Sakala, September 2, 2014
- PPI’s Aleks Kajstura presents at FCC workshop on further regulation of the prison phone industry
Aleks Kajstura gave an invited presentation of our research on two different workshop panels, highlighting the importance of fees and comprehensive reform.
by Leah Sakala, August 20, 2014
- John Oliver takes on the U.S. prison system
Awesome piece with one small mistake on the difference between prisons and jails.
by Peter Wagner, August 4, 2014
- FCC hears how high cost of calls can end parental rights
David Carliner Award Finalist Barbara Graves-Poller tells the FCC that New York prison phonecall price gouging routinely causes people to lose their parental rights.
by Peter Wagner, July 24, 2014
- Alabama to rein in third-party payment profit sharing in prison telephone industry
Alabama’s new rules will force prison phone industry to end kickbacks from Western Union/MoneyGram.
by Peter Wagner, July 21, 2014
- Huffington Post: The Father’s Day Profiteers That Put Hallmark to Shame
The Huffington Post just published my new article, The Father's Day Profiteers That Put Hallmark to Shame. Here's how it starts: This Sunday, more than a million families....
by Leah Sakala, June 13, 2014
- The Mothers Day Phone Rip-Off
This Mother's day, hundreds of thousands of kids won't be able to call their mothers, and if Mom calls them, those kids are going to have a hard time paying for the call if she calls them.
by Peter Wagner, May 9, 2014
- PPI weighs in on New York Times Room for Debate on video visitation
"[I]f left unregulated, the video communication market could follow the trajectory of the infamously broken prison telephone industry."
by Leah Sakala, February 28, 2014
- Federal rules protect out-of-state families, but Delaware charges its families unconscionable sums to talk to loved ones in its state prisons
Delaware has the highest in-state phone rates in the country for calls home from a state prison. Delaware families have to pay three times as much for calls home from a state prison as families in other states would pay for a call from the very same prison.
by Peter Wagner, February 25, 2014
- HuffPo: FCC Bests Prison Telephone Industry Just in Time for Valentine’s Day
Peter and Leah wrote a new Huffington Post piece about the start of the FCC's inter-state prison phone rate regulation on Tuesday.
by Leah Sakala, February 13, 2014
- Today the FCC dragged the prison telephone industry kicking and screaming into the 21st century
The two largest prison phone companies, mislead correctional facilities and federal regulators by acting like communications technology is stuck in the 1950s.
by Peter Wagner, February 11, 2014
- PPI sparks New York Times column “Phoning From Prison, at Prices Through the Roof”
We asked The New York Times consumer protection columnist the Haggler to investigate the broken prison phone industry. He did!
by Leah Sakala, February 3, 2014
- FCC should remain persistent on prison phone progress
We submitted additional comments to the FCC confirming more kickbacks, and urging the FCC to keep protections in place for people in jail.
by Aleks Kajstura, January 15, 2014
- Portion of FCC prison phone regulations put on hold; rate caps to go into effect 2/11
Court orders stay on some of the FCC's new prison phone regulations, but caps on call rates still go into effect on February 11th.
by Aleks Kajstura, January 14, 2014
- New York Times editorial cites PPI research on correctional video communication industry
"…the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts research group, urged similar rules for video visitation, email, voice mail and other systems."
by Leah Sakala, January 7, 2014
- FCC should close video loophole in prison phone regulation
Increasing the number of ways that families can stay in touch is a good thing. But allowing companies to exploit families and undercut the FCC's efforts to bring fairness to this industry is not.
by Leah Sakala, December 23, 2013
- Tell the FCC that all families need to stay in touch
We're partnering with SumOfUs to collect petitions supporting the FCC's next steps in regulating the prison phone industry.
by Aleks Kajstura, December 4, 2013
- FCC denies phone companies’ pleas to delay fair rates
The FCC denies prison phone companies’ petitions to delay implementing fair rates, reiterating the need for regulation.
by Aleks Kajstura, November 26, 2013
- Alabama should implement proposed prison phone reform
PPI submits letter to Alabama Public Service Commission supporting proposed regulations to reign in exorbitant costs jails and prison phone calls.
by Aleks Kajstura, November 14, 2013
- FCC prison phone regulation ruling published in Federal Register, to take effect Feb 11.
Companies and correctional facilities can no longer collude to profit off of keeping families apart.
by Peter Wagner, November 13, 2013
- Prison phone company to expand most costly service?
Prison phone company that recently raised their exorbitant fees even higher, recently took steps to bolster their still unregulated single call program.
by Aleks Kajstura, November 8, 2013
- Alabama seeks to curb high cost of prison and jail phone calls
Alabama Public Service Commission caps phone rates and limits fees charged for phone calls from correctional facilities.
by Aleks Kajstura, October 9, 2013
- A prison phone industry giant said what??
The Huffington Post just published the first article we’ve seen on the prison phone regulation that includes a public interview with the CEO of Securus.
by Leah Sakala, September 10, 2013
- Prison phone giant Securus cashes in, raises fees
While the FCC drags its feet on regulating the prison phone industry, the industry is wasting no time raking in the profits.
by Peter Wagner, September 5, 2013
- Prison Legal News covers historic FCC workshop on the prison phone industry
The article includes a nice summary of Peter's invited presentation on a panel about the true costs of providing prison phone service.
by Leah Sakala, August 29, 2013
- When is a customer not a customer? (In prison.)
A New York Times Magazine article exposes how the broken prison commissary industry leaves the people footing the bill out of the equation.
by Leah Sakala, August 20, 2013
- FCC takes historic stand to control the predatory prison and jail phone industry
the FCC is finally stepping up to the plate to protect families from having to choose between staying in touch and paying the bills.
by Leah Sakala, August 9, 2013
- The good old days of the exploitative prison phone industry?
2002 footage shows how much the industry has changed in 10 years.
by Leah Sakala, August 9, 2013
- Hiding commission payments and bypassing regulation
Letter to FCC: crafting effective regulation for prison phone market requires taking a comprehensive view of the commission system, ending high rates.
by Aleks Kajstura, August 3, 2013
- New York prison system tells FCC meaningful prison phone regulation is possible
New York has found that "there are significant benefits that can be attributed to lower calling rates."
by Leah Sakala, July 10, 2013
- PPI will expose hefty fees and commissions at FCC workshop on prison phone service
The workshop is from 9am-5pm EST Wednesday July 10th, and the FCC needs to hear from you. Find out how to participate.
by Leah Sakala, July 9, 2013
- New video: The high cost of calls home from the Hampden County Jail
Our new video shines some light on the dark underbelly of the telecommunications industry.
by Leah Sakala, July 9, 2013
- FCC has questions on prison phone service fees, PPI has answers
The FCC wants to know about the many fees prison phone companies charge. While the companies aren't talking, we've got answers.
by Leah Sakala, July 8, 2013
- PPI’s “Unlocking Prison Phone Data” Hackathon project on NCTV
Peter Wagner and Jake Mitchell talk about their software to make prison phone justice documents on the FCC website accessible to the larger movement.
by Leah Sakala, June 28, 2013
- The Phone Corporations That Ruined Fathers Day
On Sunday, some families had to choose between wishing dad a Happy Father’s Day on the telephone and putting food on the table.
by Peter Wagner, June 18, 2013
- Securus agrees that it’s ripping customers off via outrageous prison phone fees
But will they take their own advice and stop charging customers to get their own money back?
by Leah Sakala, June 11, 2013
- Unlocking the FCC data at Hack for Western Mass
A team of civic-minded hackers in Western Massachusetts have built a tool to make it easier to access documents about the FCC proceeding on regulating the prison telephone industry.
by Peter Wagner, June 3, 2013
- Thoughts on processing fees in the jail telephone industry
Some additional observations about prison phone fees, based on discussions we had with the phone companies after the report’s release.
by Peter Wagner, May 29, 2013
- Our report leads two phone companies to clarify & improve policies
As a result of the report, at least two companies, Turnkey and NCIC, made several clarifications and improvements to their fee policies.
by Peter Wagner, May 28, 2013
- Please Deposit All of Your Money: Kickbacks, Rates, and Hidden Fees in the Jail Phone Industry
The newest Prison Policy Initiative report exposes the prison phone industry's hidden fees, which saddle the families of incarcerated people with staggeringly high phone bills.
by Leah Sakala, May 8, 2013
- Prisons rob incarcerated people by gouging phone call prices
Peter Wagner talks about the FCC taking action to rein in prison phone rates on RT America, January 4, 2013.
by Leah Sakala, January 4, 2013
- RT News covers predatory prison phone industry
On November 20, 2012 Prison Policy Initiative Research Associate Drew Kukorowski appeared on RT News to talk about the outrageous charges of the prison and jail phone industry.
by Leah Sakala, November 21, 2012
- Movement victory: FCC proposes to regulate prison phone rates
At a Nov. 15th phone justice rally in Washington D.C., we, along with our partners at SumOfUs, delivered signatures from 36,690 people across the country calling on the FCC to rein in predatory prison phone rates. And it looks like the FCC will act soon -- Commissioner Mignon Clyburn announced that the FCC Chairman has circulated a prison phone regulatory proposal that the commission will now vote on.
by Leah Sakala, November 15, 2012
- New York Times editorial cites PPI prison phone industry report
The New York Times cited "The Price to Call Home: State-Sanctioned Monopolization in the Prison Phone Industry" in an editorial calling on the Federal Communications Commission to cap prison calling rates.
by Leah Sakala, September 24, 2012
- New PPI report “The Price To Call Home: State-Sanctioned Monopolization In The Prison Phone Industry”
A new Prison Policy Initiative report reveals that the monopolistic prison phone industry’s high calling rates are jeopardizing public safety and taxing poor communities. The report calls on the FCC to set price caps that would allow incarcerated people to increase their chances of success upon release by staying connected to their families.
by Leah Sakala, September 11, 2012
Other news coverage we think you should read
- Making Prison Phone Calls Cheaper: Why It Matters, by Rebecca J. Rosen, The Atlantic, August 18, 2013
- Private Equity Take From Prison Phone Market Cut by FCC, by Todd Shields, Bloomberg Businessweek, August 9, 2013
- FCC to consider limiting cost of prison phone calls, by Christina Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times, August 8, 2013
- Congressional Black Caucus pushes for regulation of prison phone services, by Suzanne Gamboa, Star Tribune, April 24, 2013
- Inmate Phone Service Draws FCC Scrutiny, by Joe Palazzolo, Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2013
- FCC to Propose Cuts in Prisoners’ Rates for Phone Calls, by Todd Shields, Bloomberg Businessweek, December 28, 2012
- FCC wants to lower sky-high prison phone call rates, by David Goldman, CNN, December 28, 2012
- Gouging for prison phone calls means we all pay, Columbus Dispatch, December 12, 2012
- After almost a decade, FCC has yet to rule on high cost of prison phone calls, by Justin Moyer, Washington Post, December 2, 2012
Other resources helpful to the movement
- The Prison Phone Justice Campaign contains a wealth of information, including a Brief Bank for litigation-related documents and a collection of publications related to prison phone reform.
- The Bankrupt-Your-Family Calling Plan New York Times editorial (December 22, 2006) is an excellent summary of what's wrong with the prison phone industry.
- An excellent infographic that succinctly explains the core problems in the prison telephone industry, developed by Take Part and the Center for Media Justice.
- Thousand Kites phone justice contains an updated list of recent op-eds and press coverage of prison phone justice, and links to the Center for Media Justice’s Democracy Toolkit for prison phone reform.
- Prison Legal News is the leading news source for the rights of incarcerated persons. Prison Legal News has been documenting the injustices in the prison phone industry for years, and remains the leading forum for new developments in the fight for prison phone reform.
- Prison Legal News's phone charges by state data tables.
- The Federal Communications Commission: Track developments and new public comments on the Wright Petition. Select the Electronic Comment Filing System link from the menu on the right-hand side of the homepage, and then search for proceeding number 96-128. Read letters written by incarcerated people, their families, and organizations detailing the harm caused by high prison phone rates.