Captive Customers Ask FCC for Relief
Captive Customers Ask FCC for Relief
Captive Customers Ask FCC for Relief

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    Recently, the FCC has received hundreds of letters from
    prisoners across the country asking Chairman Genachowski for action on the Wright petition, which
    calls on the agency to provide a solution for exorbitant prison phone rates. These letters are result of the Prison Phone
    Justice Campaign where campaign partner Prison Legal News ran an ad in their
    newspaper, asking incarcerated individuals to share their personal experiences.

    These letters include stories of lost
    friendships, severed family connections and the difficultly of maintaining
    legal counsel due to the high cost of calls. Stories that often times get lost
    in the politics of policy making. Public Knowledge along with many other public
    interest advocacy organizations, continue
    to urge
    the FCC and the public, to keep these at the forefront of their rulemaking
    decision regarding the Wright Petition.

    The story of interstate prison phone
    regulation was referred from the court system in 2001, laying this issue
    squarely within the FCC’s authority. Since then, pro-bono counsel for Martha
    , a grandmother of an inmate, have been petitioning the FCC to
    establish a benchmark long distance service rate within state correctional
    facilities. The goal is to provide swift and much need relief for those
    burdened with the high
    of long distance phone calls that are often times, the only source of

    Phone calls become more crucial as prisoners
    are moved from state to state, making visitation trips expensive and
    painstaking. As one Hawaiian inmate currently serving time in Arizona writes,
    “I am thousands of miles away from home…the amount of contact with my children
    and other family has been greatly limited due to high cost to my family and
    myself…this you could consider the result of being a captive customer.”

    These captive customers are not just those
    behind bars, but also their families. These families are limited to the phone service
    selected by the state an inmate is held in, without access to competitive
    services. Hearing a voice can mean the world to a family, as the Johnson family
    writes,“ I am a single mother of 2 boys, and my father who is incarcerated is
    their only male figure in their life. I can’t afford to pay the high cost.”

    When inmate wages are taken into
    consideration, phone costs shift from high to just plain unaffordable. “23
    cents a minute adds up quickly, especially when I am paid 12 cents an hour at
    my job here. I spend a total of $50 a month to speak to my mother, son and
    siblings via phone and email,” writes one woman.

    Six dollars for 15 minutes in Iowa may seem more
    reasonable, but not to an inmate who makes between $20 and $40 a month. “Over 4
    years, I have simply stopped calling my friends and family. I know they could
    help by sending money, but it’s not fair to them to pay such high rates to hear
    our voices,” writes one Des Moines prisoner.

    Incarcerated or not, it is not fair for
    anyone to be subjected to such high costs. As one California inmate phrased it,
    [prison phone companies] should be advised that a judge has already pronounced
    punishment and fine. It is not their place to allot additional punishment and
    fines, let alone, against a prisoner’s family and friends.

    Capping these costs would ease the burden on
    families and help strengthen the ties to the communities they are returning to,
    decreasing the likelihood that they will return to prison. After hearing these
    stories from those truly affected by these practices, the FCC should exercise
    its authority to provide relief for these individuals and their families.