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.

In sum,

…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.

One Response

  1. Christine Almeida says, 5 days after publication:

    I think that it is a great idea to lower the cost of the calls a lot of family don’t have the means to communicate with their loved ones because it is so expensive to be able to keep money on the phone. I think it is important for inmates to be able to keep in contact with their loved one and be able to talk to their children, Co parenting is necessary for these children out here so they don’t feel a sense of abandonment. Lower prison calls and help families stay together.

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