Recent federal reforms aimed at protecting prisoners from exorbitant phone bills still fall short of reining in prices on the the vast majority of inmate calls, federal officials and prisoners' advocates said Wednesday.
The new rules, enacted in February by the Federal Communications Commission, cap prices for out-of-state calls. But most calls from prisoners are in-state communications, which remain unregulated.
Advocates say call fees have long been a problem for inmates and their families. Costly charges can leave prisoners with thousands of dollars in phone bills when they get out. In some cases, people have been forced to choose between phone calls and food. And children who lack regular contact with their incarcerated parents are more likely to miss school, become homeless, or suffer depression.
The FCC, led by interim Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, took a step toward addressing that problem last year. The agency's ruling capped prices for interstate phone calls at 21 cents per minute for prepaid calls and 25 cents per minute for collect calls. Previous prices had exceeded $1 a minute in some cases.
When the FCC put forth its original ruling in 2013, it expressed a desire to address in-state rates as well, seeking comment on possible proposals to do so. But the telephone companies that challenged the out-of-state caps have threatened opposition to in-state rules as well, and any FCC attempt to reform them would likely trigger a legal battle over the FCC's jurisdiction.