Prison Policy Initiative files objections to unreasonable jail phone rates, asks Iowa Utilities Board to protect families

At a time when phone calls for the rest of us cost almost nothing, there is no reason to force the poorest families in Iowa to pay outlandish rates.

April 26, 2019

For immediate release — The Prison Policy Initiative has filed objections to five phone companies’ proposed phone rates for Iowa county jails. At a time when the cost of a typical phone call is approaching zero, phone providers in Iowa jails frequently charge incarcerated people and their families 30 cents per minute or more for a phone call. (And one provider charges as much as $4.41 for the first minute.)

In January, the Iowa Utilities Board required these providers to file rate disclosures – or “tariffs” – for state approval. By state statute, the Utilities Board must ensure that rates are just and reasonable and that “no unreasonable profit is made.” The Prison Policy Initiative’s research has found that phone calls from Iowa’s jails are among the most expensive in the nation, and more than four times as expensive as calls from the state’s prison system.

In February, the Prison Policy Initiative report State of Phone Justice uncovered the cost of phone calls in over 2,000 jails nationwide, explaining why sheriffs sign lucrative phone contracts that prey on people in jail and their families:

  • Phone providers compete for jail contracts by offering sheriffs large portions of the revenue – and then charge exorbitant phone rates.
  • Providers exploit sheriffs’ lack of experience with telecommunications contracts to slip in hidden fees that fleece consumers.
  • State legislators, regulators and governors traditionally pay little attention to jails, even as they continue to lower the cost of calls home from state prisons.

The report found that calls home from Iowa jails are the 13th most expensive in the nation. “There is no reason to force the poorest families in Iowa to pay these outlandish rates, particularly at a time when phone calls for the rest of us cost almost nothing,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative.

The objections were filed with the research assistance of volunteer attorney Stephen Raher, and the organization is now being represented pro bono before the Iowa Utilities Board by David Yoshimura of Faegre Baker Daniels in Des Moines.

The Prison Policy Initiative’s objections to the tariffs are available for: Global Tel*Link, Public Communications Services, Prodigy Solutions, Reliance Telephone of Grand Forks, and Securus.

Yesterday, the Iowa Utilities board granted our request to intervene and docketed the tariffs for further review. Further comments about the proposed tariffs are due May 13.

2 responses:

  1. Andy Douglas says:

    Is it possible to leave comments with the Iowa Utilities Board about this issue? Do you have a link? Thanks.

    1. Hi Andy,

      It might be a bit tricky, but you can file comments here: https://efs.iowa.gov/efs/
      The list of docket numbers (one per company) is at https://efs.iowa.gov/cs/groups/external/documents/docket/mdax/odq2/~edisp/1846198.pdf

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