FCC to Vote on Capping Inmate Calling Service Rates

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By Brandon Ross

Sept. 30The FCC will vote on an order to cap the notoriously high-rates that phone companies are allowed to charge inmates and their loved ones to communicate over the phone at its Oct. monthly meeting, the agency announced.

Through a Sept. 30 blog post and fact sheet, Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn announced that she and agency Chairman Tom Wheeler have teamed up circulate the proposed order to the other three FCCcommissioners (another Democrat and two Republicans).

“[I]n partnership with Commissioner Clyburn, Chairman Wheeler is proposing to cap rates for ALL [inmate calling services] calls—local, long-distance, and international—while limiting or banning excessive fees on calls,” the fact sheet said. “In combination, these reforms ensure that rates will be just, reasonable and fair with robust security features and take into account the unique nature of serving jails versus prisons.”

The FCC voted to cap the rates for some long-distance in state calls in 2013, and has done studies on the effects of those caps. The FCC studies showed the effect of the capped rates had been positive for inmates' communications. Now the commission seeks to cap rates for all inmate calling services.

“Despite predictions of devastating impacts, I am not aware of any instances of security concerns or phones being removed from correctional institutions due to these rate caps,” Clyburn said in her blog post. “The interim rate caps we adopted in 2013 have resulted in higher volumes of interstate calls: 70 percent in some cases!”

The FCC has not yet released the remaining items it will deal with during the Oct. 22 open meeting.

Societal Integration, Prison Safety

“These reforms will help inmates and their families stay in touch by making calling more affordable, and benefit society as a whole by helping inmates transition more smoothly back into society upon their release,” Clyburn said.

“[O]ne negative trend we have seen is an increase in additional fees and charges, such as those to open an account, put money into an account, close an account, or even refund money to an account,” Clyburn said in the FCC blog.

Prisons and jails have argued that the rates shouldn't be capped on the basis that the correctional institutions were using the money to buy needed equipment like safety equipment for their guards. The money the correctional institutions collected was necessary to facilitate the calling services to their inmates, they said.

“These caps also would provide sufficient revenue for correctional institutions to recover the costs of providing calling service and a fair return for providers while delivering reasonable rates for inmates and their families,” Clyburn said.