New York prison system tells FCC meaningful prison phone regulation is possible
by Leah Sakala, July 10, 2013
The Federal Communications Commission is holding a workshop today to gather information on regulating the high cost of calls from prisons and jails, and the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is weighed in by submitting a letter.
The letter explains that New York’s prison system knows about regulating prison calling charges from personal experience. In 2007, the system eliminated its 57.7% commission and lowered the rates from $4.48 to less than $1 for a 20-minute call.
And what was the result of lowering the price to call home in New York? More families are able to stay in touch, there are fewer contraband cellphones, and family relationships are stronger when incarcerated people return home. And it’s saving the state money in reentry programs, too: “…the Call Home Program is among the most cost-effective family reunification options” offered in the New York prison system.
The only drawbacks to lowering phone charges that the letter identifies is that making calls from prison more accessible requires vigilant prison security systems (which makes sense), and that the state has had to find alternate sources of revenue to make up for banning commissions.
…the Department’s experience indicates that inmate calling rates can be reduced substantially if states eliminate their commission on the calls, and structure competitive bidding processes that ensure that the cost of the calls is among the primary attributes of their inmate calling contracts. Moreover, there are significant benefits that can be attributed to lower calling rates that seem to outweigh the operational challenges that also attach to the process.
The FCC should take heed from New York’s experience and act quickly to rein in the outrageous rates and high fees that families are forced to pay just to stay in touch.