December 13, 2016–In a blog post today, FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn highlighted some of the “bad practices when it comes to our nation’s inmate calling services regime,” including charges of $25 for a 15-minute inmate call in Arkansas County, Ark. “Given that the median income of a male inmate before incarceration is $19,650, how do you suppose he (or the family left behind) can be expected to pay a phone bill that is 8800% higher than before he began his sentence? And while voice rates and usage are on the decline for the majority of consumers, charges for inmates continue to rise in most communities,” she said.
Commissioner Clyburn said that inmate calling service (ICS) provider Securus Technologies responded to the FCC’s elimination of many types of ancillary fees by effectively rolling them into “‘first minute rates.’ On top of that, they lowered the prepaid account maximum deposit,” so that inmates and their families would have to pay administrative deposit fees more often. “Some jurisdictions, it pains me to say, are as guilty in this egregious set-up as the provider. Exclusive contracts granted on the basis of the highest payment to correctional facilities represents one of the most glaring examples of market failure I have witnessed in my 18 years as a regulatory commissioner,” she said.
“But I maintain hope because that exists as well. Some states and localities are actually moving forward, instituting changes, and making tough decision to forgo financial gain for the betterment of the correctional officers, inmates and the loved ones left behind,” Commissioner Clyburn said. “The positives of reduced ICS rates are well documented and have never been in dispute. Officers benefit because an inmate who speaks with their loved ones on a regular basis maintains a better mental state and is more often than not, easier to manage; inmates benefit because those who keep in touch, readjust more readily upon release resulting in less recidivism and lower generational incarceration; and loved ones benefit because that grandma who is now the primary caretaker can spend more money on food and medicine for herself and the children instead of on high telephone bills.”
She pledged to engage in 12 days of #PhoneInjustice tweeting. —Lynn Stanton, firstname.lastname@example.org