Federal regulators on Thursday capped the rates that prison phone companies can charge inmates and their families, delivering a major victory to civil-rights groups and prisoner advocates who have been decrying alleged price gouging for more than 14 years.
In a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission declared that the current rates charged by phone companies, which average about $3 for a 15-minute call and can sometimes reach as high as $14 per minute, are “unjust and unreasonable.” The new regulations will limit the cost of most 15-minute calls to $1.65 per call.
“For the majority of those faced with these bills, high payments are their reality and incredible sacrifices unimaginable to most of us are being made,” said Mignon Clyburn, a Democratic FCC commissioner who spearheaded the action. “This is untenable, egregious, and unconscionable.”
She argued that the high prices unfairly hurt the families of inmates and that making it easier for inmates to stay in touch with loved ones can help to reduce recidivism.
Martha Wright, a blind Washington, D.C., nurse who wanted to speak to her incarcerated grandson, petitioned the FCC to crack down on prison phone rates in 2003, but the issue languished. Wright died last year.