Prison Phones

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.

Historically, the prices to make a phone call from prison are astronomically high, which has been detrimental to family members and loved ones footing the bill. Additionally, the prison system chooses which company provides for them, which often included a “kick-back” profit to the state or the prisons themselves. Under the Communications Act, it is the responsibility of the FCC to ensure that phone rates for a population of Americans remain just and reasonable.

Commendably, in August 2013, the FCC put an interim cap on prison phone charges, and put a stop to kick-back schemes. In October 2015, the FCC voted to put a permament cap on the unjust and unreasonable phone rates charged to prison inmates, citing families paying $250 per month to stay connected to loved ones.

These long awaited actions were facilitated through the outstanding and tireless commitment of FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and staff, the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, and a wide coalition of civil rights, public interest, and criminal justice reform organizations, including Public Knowledge. Together these efforts ensure that the families and loved ones of inmates are no longer susceptible to the exorbitant rates and egregious fee practices of inmate call service providers.

Public Knowledge supports open and affordable access to communications. The cost of these calls should be proportionate to the operating costs of these phone systems.

To learn more check out the following:

We published a press release detailing the October 2015 decision.

We produced a podcast exclusively on the topic of prison phones. 

We compiled a series of letters written to the FCC by people who are adversely affected by exorbitant prison phone rates and practices.

Clarissa Ramon wrote this piece commending the FCC on their 2013 decision.

Here are the PK experts on this issue:

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