In a rare display of intelligence and rationality, the Federal Communications Commission has voted in favor of new rules that cap the amount that telephone companies can charge for calls to and from prisons. The vote was 2-1 and, predictably, the one vote against it was a Republican.
In a 2 to 1 decision, the agency voted to immediately cap how much prison phone-service providers can charge the recipients of an inmate’s call at 25 cents per-minute so that a 15-minute long-distance call won’t exceed $3.75. The FCC also banned the providers from charging extra fees to connect a call or use a calling card.
The federal order affects a previously unregulated segment of the telecommunications industry and aims to end the explosion of prison calling costs that have reached as much as $20 for a 15-minute call in some states.
There are nearly 3 million children with a parent in prison and studies show that contact with their families is an important part of prisoner rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. But the phone companies who provide that service have been gouging the hell out of inmates and their families and giving kickbacks to the prisons:
Global Tel*Link, Securus and Century Link, the main providers in prisons, have argued in filings with the FCC that their services are more expensive to operate and require higher fees. The companies did not return calls for comment.
The companies have offered prisons a percentage of the fees they charge to connect prisoners’ calls. Prisons often use those commissions to pay staff salaries and benefits, as well as fund educational programs. Last year alone, prisons in 42 states received $103.9 million in commissions from the phone firms, according to Prison Legal News.
Frankly, this doesn’t go far enough. All of the money that has been kicked back to the prisons should also be refunded. Every dime of it should now go to pay for free phone service from the prisons until all that money is made up.