By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
We previously featured an article on how the practice of private organizations charging predatory tolls on inmate telephone calls. Now, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), a regulatory agency of the U.S. Government, voted to enact guidelines limiting these tolls to be more in-line with reasonable costs that the agency believes will balance inmate needs with legitimate rates of return required by carriers to remain viable in their business venture.
The ruling by the FCC should come not only as welcome news to inmates, their friends and families, but it will also provide a means of comfort for most inmates and might to a limited degree also lead to lower problems affecting staff caused by inmate misbehavior.
In my previous article I wrote that the matter that has been for years a hot button issue is how telephone service vendors have entered into contract with prisons and jails in the various states. County jails and state prisons were enticed on the promise of lowering costs to the government agency in exchange for having the liberty to place the burden of the cost onto inmates and those electing to make calls.
Over the years several vendors have clearly taken advantage of the system, and callers who have no other choices if they wish to speak with their attorney, family, or friends.
I opined that fines, losses of freedom, and such should be levied by the courts with regard to prisoners. It is likely that having somewhat of a shield to allow such burdensome telephone charges, specifically in that the public and politicians mostly do not care about prisoners paying high fees since they deserve whatever punishment they get regardless of form, that it actually may have fostered an environment leading to an opportunity to extract as much money as possible by telephone vendors–with little oversight or attention.
Now, the rules have changed for what most consider better. Exploitation will no longer be manifest in inmate telephony. Here is an excerpt from the Federal Communication Commission’s press release:
(October 22, 2015) – Acting on its mandate to ensure that rates for phone calls are just, reasonable and fair for all Americans, the Federal Communications Commission today took further steps to rein in the excessive rates and egregious fees on phone calls paid by some of society’s most vulnerable: people trying to stay in touch with loved ones serving time in jail or prison.
With the cost of a call sometimes ballooning to $14 per minute once inside prison walls, the FCC for the first time capped rates for local and in-state long-distance inmate calling, and cut its existing cap on interstate long-distance calls by up to 50 percent.
At the same time, the FCC closed loopholes by barring most add-on fees imposed by inmate calling service (ICS) providers, and set strict limits on the few fees that remain. Extra fees and charges can increase the cost of families staying in touch by phone with loved ones who are incarcerated by as much as 40%.
While contact between inmates and their loved ones has been shown to reduce the rate of recidivism, high inmate calling rates have made that contact unaffordable for many families, who often live in poverty. Reducing the cost of these calls measurably increases the amount of contact between inmates and their loved ones, making an important contribution to the criminal justice reforms sweeping the nation.
Today’s action builds on reforms begun by the FCC in 2013, when it acted on a petition by Martha Wright, a grandmother from Washington, D.C., for relief from the exorbitant rates she was paying to call her grandson in prison. These reforms set an interim cap of 21 cents per minute on interstate debit and prepaid calls, required ICS providers to file cost data. In October 2014, the FCC sought comment on the data and proposed to reform all inmate calling rates and fees.
The Order adopted by the Commission today acts on that data by lowering the cap to 11 cents per minute for all local and long distance calls from state and federal prisons, while providing tiered rates for jails to account for the higher costs of serving jails and smaller institutions.
The new caps fully cover the enhanced security requirements of inmate calling, while allowing providers a reasonable return.
The full text of the press release, including some basic tolling guidelines, may be read HERE. (PDF)
By Darren Smith
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