For years, prison inmates have had to pay up to $14 a minute for phone calls to family and friends on the outside.
But thanks to a new FCC regulation on debit or prepaid calls in state and federal prisons — which caps per-minute rates at 11 cents — prisoners will be relieved of the incredible financial burden that was speaking to loved ones.
"Voting to endorse today's reforms will eliminate the most egregious case of market failure I have ever seen in my 17 years as a state and federal regulator," FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said Thursday at a monthly FCC meeting. "The system is inequitable, it has preyed on our most vulnerable for too long, families are being further torn apart, and the cycle of poverty is being perpetuated."
The problem is even worse than it seems. A study published by several human rights groups has shown that one in three families of incarcerated individuals have gone into debt from the phone calls alone. In other words, families are ruining themselves financially in a simple effort to maintain communication with the people they love.
Martha Wright, who died recently, was the one who started this decade-long campaign in 2003 after realizing how impossible it was to keep in touch with her incarcerated grandson. And guess what? Aside from the obvious financial benefits, prison researchers have found that less contact with family on the outside increasing the chance of a criminal being reincarcerated after getting released.
"Inmate calling reform is not only the right thing to do, it's also good policy," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. "Contact between inmates and their loved ones has been shown to reduce the rate of recidivism, but high inmate calling rates have made that contact unaffordable for many families, who often live in poverty."
For the 2.4 million people incarcerated in the United States, the news is welcome. After all, the high rates for phone calls were only funneling more money into corporate America while damaging the families that were already hurting.
"None of us would consider ever paying $500 a month for a voice-only service where calls are dropped for seemingly no reason," Clyburn added. "For the majority of those faced with these bills, high payments are their reality and incredible sacrifices unimaginable to most of us are being made. This is untenable, egregious and unconscionable."