Office of Communications, Inc.

Prison Phone Rates

Overview

The cost of a phone call to or from prison is often astronomically high, burdening family members and loved ones paying for these calls.  The profits from these predatory rates typically include a “kick-back” -- profit paid to prisons, jail or detention center.  Thus, in many cases, every word a grandmother utters to her grandson on the telephone constitutes another payment to his jailers.

*Are you being overcharged for prison phone calls? Read our FAQ/File a Complaint page.

Prison Phone Costs: Inmates' and Families' Right to Communicate 

Communication is the key to many other rights and needs. It may not be a surprise that in some surveys of families with loved ones in prison, the cost of phone calls tops the list of the worst indignities they bear every day. A telephone call is the way that families can track everything else in the lives of their loved ones—their health, their treatment, their emotional well-being—and provide them the emotional support they so desperately need. prison hands small

Are these rates justified by security needs? No.  A number of states have reformed their systems, bringing down rates to as low as 5 cents per minute.

Don’t we want to encourage contact with prisoners while they are incarcerated? Yes, sadly the federal policy is not only inhumane, but it reduces the chances that prisoners will successfully reintegrate into society when they are released.  Strong social networks outside prison help former inmates succeed as law-abiding citizens when they get out.

How does this happen?  Routinely in this country, prisons and jails charge exorbitant rates to companies who offer secure telephone service for prisoners, and those rates are passed on to the families and loved one who pay for the calls.  These telephone companies are often required to bid against one another to offer telephone service—whoever offers the biggest payment to the prison gets the right to offer calls.  Prisoners don’t have choice like the rest of us, they get to use only the telephone company selected by the prison.

How much do prisoners’ and their families pay for calls? According to a recent study, for long distance calls, many families can pay a connection charge of $3.00 or more plus per-minute rates up to $.89 – resulting in $10 to $17 for a 15-minute collect call.  These costs are outrageous when many Americans access services that are either unlimited long-distance plans, or, charge 3 cents per minute with no connection fees.  For a prisoner’s family, a 15 minute call per week could cost $120 per month.

Are these rates justified by security needs? No.  A number of states have reformed their systems, bringing down rates to as low as 5 cents per minute.

Don’t we want to encourage contact with prisoners while they are incarcerated? Yes, sadly the federal policy is not only inhumane, but it reduces the chances that prisoners will successfully reintegrate into society when they are released.  Strong social networks outside prison help former inmates succeed as law-abiding citizens when they get out.

Current Campaign

In 2013 a successful campaign persuaded the Federal Communications Commission to end predatory rates for long-distance calls to and from prisons, jails, and detention centers. Thanks to our collective work, last year the FCC prevented families from being charged more than 25 cents per minute to speak to their loved ones in prison. Before the reform a typical long-distance collect call from prison could a family almost a dollar a minute, and can reach hundreds of dollars per month. The FCC is planning to take the next step and lower local telephone rates, which are extremely important, particularly for people who make calls from local jails. Sheriffs from around the country are rallying against these reforms. More sickening, companies like Securus and GTL which offer prison communications services are persuading prisons to eliminate in-person visitation and substitute video visitation at predatory rates.

This June, look for a Father’s Day effort to highlight the 2.7 million children who cannot speak to their fathers on Father’s Day.  Sign up [ADD LINK] so you can take action by:

  • Making telephone calls and sign petitions to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC),
  • Giving sermons about this issue on Father’s Day,
  • Joining a faith-based delegation visit to the FCC.

Activities

Middle of Nowhere ---- Predatory Prison Phone Rate Action Tools

UCC's media justice and communications rights ministry is grateful for the support from Hollywood for ourcampaign to stop predatory prison phone rates.

Ava Duvarnay's acclaimed movie, Middle of Nowhere, is helping with its own action campaign to ask the Federal Communications Commission to take action.   You can help by going to see the movie and using our discussion guide and materials to learn more and urge others to join in the effort.

UCC's Discussion Guide for Middle of Nowhere

Watch the Full Movie Online. Or purchase the DVD.

You can also use the following tools from the movie producers: online petition urging the FCC to pass the Wright Petition short video from the movie's star, Emayatzy Corinealdi, calling people to action

Multimedia

Fighting for the Right to Call Home

Could Anyone Possibly Think This Phone Company Isn't Horrible?

Middle of Nowhere: Make It Wright To Call Home

Video Visitation vs. Skype

Infographics

phone justice for immigrant detention copy prison_phones4_050812 prison_phones4_050812 prison_phones4_050812

 Audio

PK In the Know Podcast - Deep Dive on Prison Phone Rates

A mother in Virginia lays out the case for affordable prison phone calls.

Other Resources

Organizations and Campaigns

Campaign for Prison Phone Justice

Public Knowledge Prison Phone Page

Phone Justice for Immigrants in Detention 

Other Articles, Letters, and Resources

Screening Out Family Time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails, Prison Policy Initiative (2015)

Interfaith, civil rights letter supporting further FCC action on local rates and for people with disabilities.  (December 2013).

FCC Order Heralds Hope for Reform of Prison Phone Industry, Prison Legal News (December 2013).

Civil Rights Groups and Conservative Leaders Urge FCC to End Predatory Prison Phone Rates (May 2012).

"Criminal Charges: Excessive Prison Phone Rates Take a Toll on Innocent Families," report by the Media Justice Fund of the Funding Exchange (April 2009).

2015 Flier

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