It may soon cost $1 instead of $12 to call from prison, FCC says

The era of of telecom providers charging high rates to incarcerated people and their families may soon be over, according to the Federal Communications Commission, with the regulatory agency saying it is set to “end exorbitant” call charges next month.

The FCC’s proposed rules would significantly lower existing per-minute rate caps for out-of-state and international audio calls from correctional facilities, and apply those rate caps to in-state audio calls, the agency announced Wednesday.

The FCC on July 18 “will vote to end exorbitant phone and video call rates that have burdened incarcerated people and their families for decades,” it stated in a Wednesday news release. 

“Congress empowered the FCC to close the final loopholes in the communications system which has had detrimental effects on families and recidivism rates nationwide,” the FCC said of the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act, signed by President Biden early last year. 

If adopted, callers in large jails using a single service to make a 15-minute audio call would pay 90 cents rather than as much as $11.35 under the rate caps and charges in effect today, and callers in a small jail would pay $1.35 rather than the $12.10 billed today for that 15 minutes of phone time, the FCC said. 

The legislation clarified the FCC’s authority to regulate in-state calls from correctional facilities, as well as its authority to regulate video calls. The agency had successfully imposed caps on rates for out-of-state calls from prisons and calls, but not in-state calls, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. 

“Exorbitant costs and fees heighten depression, isolation and loneliness among incarcerated individuals — actively harming them instead of providing any discernible benefit,” a coalition of organizations said in a June 17 letter to the FCC, calling on the agency to lower rates as much as possible. 

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