Regulating the prison phone industry

Our big-picture report
Explainers about phone justice
Contracts database
Our advocacy
Press coverage

The cost of everyday communication is arguably the worst price-gouging that people behind bars and their loved ones face. Why? Because prisons and jails profit by granting monopoly telephone contracts to the company that will charge families the most.

For twenty 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.

We’ve won some real victories at the FCC lowering rates and halting industry consolidation, we’re pushing for states to take action, and we’re keeping this industry and the perverse incentives it offers the sheriffs in the news. This page provides an overview of our research and advocacy:

Our big-picture report

  • report thumbnail for State of Phone Justice report

    State of Phone Justice 2022:
    The problem, the progress, and what's next

    How much should it cost to stay in touch with Mom or Dad when they're locked up? We gathered data showing that while some jails and their phone companies provide calls for as low as 1 or 2 cents a minute, the vast majority charge 10 times that amount or more. Data from 50 state prison systems and over 3,000 local jails and other facilities show that families are paying exorbitant rates, while companies find new ways to price-gouge them through an expanding array of non-phone products.

Older reports and FCC briefings

FCC briefings:



  • Reply comments on the FCC's rulemaking, including our proposal for regulating video calling, December 17, 2021
  • Opening comments on the FCC's third mandatory data collection, November 4, 2021
  • Opening comments on the FCC's next phase of rulemaking, September 27, 2021
  • Informal complaints filed against five companies that double dip on ancillary fees, March 23, 2021
  • Contracts that bundle voice telephone service with other communication technologies, March 23, 2021
  • High third-party financial transaction fees reported by Global Tel*Link, February 25, 2021
  • 2019:





    Read older reports and briefings

    Correctional phone industry contracts

    We've made our collection of correctional phone industry contract documents public. Search them to see what companies are profting in your area.

    Explainers about phone justice

    See all explainers

    Our advocacy

    Beyond our national work seeking stronger federal regulations, raising the issue of prison phone exploitation in the press, and sparking state-level advocacy, we've also been deeply involved in several states' regulatory proceedings.

    Our work in California

    We're calling for the California Public Utilities Commission to reduce the cost of calling home from California prisons and jails by imposing rate and fee caps. For more information, see:

    Our work in Iowa

    We pushed the Iowa Utilities Board to regulate several jail phone providers — and won. Our campaign in Iowa is part of our national strategy to encourage state regulators to address unreasonable rates and fees charged by the jail phone industry. For more information, see:

    Our work in Nevada

    We are participating in Nevada's legislatively-mandated regulatory proceeding on the cost of in-state calling from prisons and jails. Our filings are available below:

    Our work in Colorado

    In 2021, the Colorado legislature re-regulated telecommunications services delivered to incarcerated people. In June 2022, we filed a demographic analysis of incarcerated Coloradans and urged the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to address prison and jail telecommunications rates as part of the Commission's work on promoting equity

    Our work in New York

    We found data showing that upstate New York county jails take huge commissions -- often 80% or more -- on revenue from phone calls. Our data sparked a bill in the New York State Legislature (likely to be reintroduced in 2022).

    • Read our report from March 2021 on jail phone rates and kickbacks in New York, including a table of data for 57 counties.

    See the details of our work in California, Iowa, Nevada, Colorado, and New York

    Our work in the news

    Other news coverage we think you should read

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