Urge the FCC to Address the High Cost of Prison Phone Calls

For 2.7 million children in the United States, a phone call is their only means of communicating with parents in prison. Phone calls with those parents can provide stability, comfort and a sense of normalcy. For the parents on the other end of the line, those same phone calls can offer accountability and a strong motivation to work toward improving their lives and those of their families upon release from prison.

But these phone calls come at a heavy price. Telephone companies and prisons have found a way to turn the need to stay connected with loved ones into a $362 million-a-year business. A 15-minute call to a prisoner generally costs between $10–17. These high rates are the result of contracts between phone companies and prisons that are granted based on which phone company can provide the highest commission to the prison. Those costs are then passed on to the prisoners’ families.

For these families — most of whom are low-income and people of color — these phone calls are a necessity priced like a luxury. When a friend of mine was picked up by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in Ohio, my community organized fundraisers to pay for legal defense and phone calls. A weekly one-hour phone call added up to $300 a month.

The Federal Communications Commission has the power to change these rates. A filing known as the “Wright Petition” urges the FCC to address the cost of phone calls by setting standards that ensure families are charged reasonable rates. Unfortunately, the filing has sat at the agency for close to eight years.

That’s why my organization, the Center for Media Justice, along with our partners, is promoting a Mother’s Day of Action. We’re asking people nationwide to speak out against expensive prison phone calls. We’re collecting stories through an online postcard that will be entered into the public docket at the FCC.

Join me in reminding the FCC that it has the power to address the high cost of prison phone calls and ensure that everyone can speak to their moms on Mother’s Day.

Steven Renderos is the national organizer for the Center for Media Justice.

Photo by Flickr user Pierre LaScott.