The FCC Finally Reins in Predatory Prison Phone Rates

After more than a decade, the FCC tackles the controversial issue.

For far too many prisoners and their families, calling home has simply gotten too expensive because of predatory prison phone rates. (Photo: Paul J. Richards/Getty Images)

Aug 8, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

UPDATE: August 9, 2013—10:12 AM PST

In addition to capping per-call rates, the Center for Media Justice is reporting that the FCC also ruled that "site commissions paid by prison phone companies to contracting government agencies (up to 70% of prison phone revenue) are not a cost of providing phone services and thus cannot be recovered."

UPDATE: August 9, 2013—9:35 AM PST

Writing for, Steven Renderos, an advocate of reform who live-tweeted the results, explains the details of the FCC's decision:

The quick breakdown, the FCC created a "safe harbor" rate of .12/min prepaid calls and .14/min collect. If providers stay at or below this rate they won't have to justify their costs. There's a maximum cap of .21/min prepaid and .25/min collect. It takes effect immediately.

UPDATE: August 9, 2013—9:27 AM PST

By a two-to-one vote, the FCC has voted to reform prison phone rates. More details to come.

Is tomorrow the day when predatory prison phone rates finally get a fairness makeover?

After a lengthy campaign waged by advocates and the families of prisoners, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to vote on August 9 to reform the out-of-whack telephone pricing structure that exists inside the American penal system.

At issue are the exorbitant prices that friends and family members of inmates are forced to pay just to stay in audible contact with their imprisoned loved ones.

Because of fees commanded by the individual prisons they serve, telephone companies have, over the years, jacked up the cost of inmate phone calls to the point where a 15-minute conversation can cost north of $17—and a one-hour call once a week can cost $250 per month.

Then there is the wholly unnecessary connection fee, which can start at $3 per call. And if the connection is lost and the prisoners have to redial, the connection fee is charged again—and again and again in perpetuity.

During the August 8 episode of TakePart Live, hosts Jacob Soboroff and Cara Santa Maria discussed the issue at depth with guest panelists Emily Skehan, a justice reform activist, Keramet Reiter, a professor at UC Irvine's School of Social Ecology, comedian Yassir Lester, and Peter Eliasberg, a legal director at the ACLU of Southern California.

If the FCC does vote to cap the rates, the real question will be by how much? Will they vote for meaningful reform and cap the per-minute fees at, say, $.10 or $.25 per minute?

"For too long, the high cost of long-distance calls from prisoners to their loved ones has chronically impacted parents and children," said FCC acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, in a statement. "Multiple studies have shown that meaningful contact beyond prison walls can make a real difference in maintaining community ties, promoting rehabilitation and reducing recidivism," she added.

The issue has been in a holding pattern at the FCC since 2002, but heated up in 2012 when the group screened Middle of Nowhere—a feature film, written and directed by Ava DuVernay, about a wife’s effort to maintain a relationship with her incarcerated husband.

In 2012, Middle of Nowhere was distributed theatrically by Participant Media, the parent company of TakePart.