- Act Now
- Open Internet
- Promoting Creativity
- Open & Accessible Technology
Today, there are roughly 2.3 million people within the United States prison system, not including the over 363, 000 individuals detained in immigrant detention facilities. As states experience increased budget shortfalls and prison populations explode, criminal justice policymakers often resort to accepting commissions, or a portion of the profits made by companies who provide phone services to prisons.
Prison phone providers exist in a private market and are selected to provide their services to state facilities through a public bidding process. Because of the lack of competition within this space, states can select the bid that provides the highest commission rate or profit back to the prison.
Innocent family members and loved ones foot the bill from the outside; supplementing state Department of Correction budgets with commissions from exorbitant phone rates. Fifteen-minute interstate calls can range anywhere from a few dollars to upwards of $15 in some states, totaling to over $240 a month for just one hour a week.
At the expense of families, these excessive costs prioritize short-term budgetary relief over ensuring their ability to maintain relationships with loved ones behind bars. The high cost is not due to a lack of advancement on the telecommunications end. It is due to a severe policy problem that can be rectified in part by the FCC, should they rule on the Martha Write petition, pending since 2003, which asks for a rate cap on interstate calls.
Public Knowledge’s Position
Public Knowledge supports open and affordable access to communications. The high cost of these calls is disproportionate to the operating costs of these phone systems. We encourage a ruling by the FCC on the Write petition that would provide financial relief to families of prisoners by setting a cap on phone rates in prison.
Although action by the FCC would only address the interstate rate families are charged to make calls out-of-state, it would provide some relief and set an example for state actors. An example set by the few reformed states that have listened to families and grassroots advocates to enact legislation that address commission practices and excessive rates.
Public Knowledge is working with allies from all sides of the issue and both ends of the political spectrum to support policy efforts that bring visibility to this issue and provide relief to families.
What you can do to help
- Subscribe to our email list for updates on hot issues and events.
- Donate to Public Knowledge to help us keep our doors open.
- Call the FCC (1-888-225-5322). You will need to press 4 and then 0 to speak to an agent. Let them know you support action on the Write petition and support affordable access to communication for all people.