Saturday, April 27, 2013

Price Gouging: Prison Phone Calls

via John Horejsi
SALT wishes to share comments that Verizon filed on the prison phones matter pending at the FCC.  Verizon takes position that it is wrong to charge prisoners and their families expensive costs to make these phone calls and urges the FCC to find other sources to offset these costs.  Here's the message in the Verizon FCC comments:

"... forcing inmates’ families to fund these programs through their calling rates is not the answer. Because higher rates necessarily reduce inmates’ telephone communications with their families and thus impede the well-recognized societal benefits resulting from such communications, other funding sources should be pursued."
We commend Verizon for realizing that for the more than 2.5 million prisoners and detainees in America, maintaining strong family connections is vital to their successful reentry into society. When prisoners are incarcerated at great distances from their homes, phone calls are the only way for them to maintain relationships with family members. But predatory phone rates have made it hard for prisoners to do just that.
And for the 2.7 million children who have one or both parents incarcerated, a phone call from mom or dad means the world. But when those calls cost $20 or more for just a few minutes, it can jeopardize the finances of families already in peril.
Indefensible price gouging for basic communication is a fact of life for American families with loved ones who are currently incarcerated.1 They're a captive audience for the phone service providers awarded monopoly contracts by prison operators, and are accordingly charged 15 times — or more — than regular phone rates.2
In a perverse system of kickbacks, county and state prisons contract to run their prison phone systems private companies that charge prisoners "commission fees" on every minute of each call. Those commissions end up as kickbacks to the prisons, creating an incentive to pick companies that charge prisoners more.

Join our message to the FCC: Enact a fair cap on what prison telephone companies are allowed to charge for long distance phone calls.

The tide is starting to change. Across the country folks are waking up to the fact that the high-cost of prison phone calls doesn't make for safer and healthier communities. At the Federal level the Federal Communications Commission has begun to take action to end the prison phone industry’s corrupt business practices — and to end price gouging and kickbacks.

Update: FCC Public Comments Period
We are blown away by the number of organizations and individuals that contributed fabulous comments addressing the questions asked in the FCC’s NPRM. Among these contributors are: SALT, Citizens for Prison Reform, Prison Phone Rates working group of the Civil Rights Media and Telecommunications Roundtable, Vera Institute of Justice, Jail Project, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates,.

Further, Campaign for Prison Phone Justice allies stepped it up to gather comments and signatures from around the nation in support of affordable rates for prison phone calls. The Justice Fellowship submitted a comment with 4,267 signers and CREDO Mobile submitted more than 20,000 sign-ons in support of the Wright Petition. Color of Change submitted a comment with 24,457 signatures. Many of the signers shared their unique experience with the prison phone system and suggested incisive reforms that would provide relief for prisoners and their families.

These Groups say continued failure to act to lower the high cost of prison phone rates will represent a failure of democracy

Judd v. AT&T Prison Phone Settlement
Here is the notice about the historic $45,000,000 settlement of Judd v. AT&T, concerning AT&T’s failure to disclose the rates of calls made from Washington State prisons.

SALT joins in Support of Virginia Phone Justice: 
SALT requests your support for phone rate fairness for prisoners and their families. Prisoners need to be able to stay in contact with their families without undue financial burdens such as currently exist in Virginia. We understand that profits from Virginia vulnerable families are about $4 million. Limiting contact with families for financial reasons reduces family support and increases the likelihood of recidivism. That is why SALT urges your support  for Virginia phone justice.
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