For nearly 10 years a petition seeking to lower the rates prisoners and their families pay to talk on the phone has languished before the FCC.
Over nearly two decades while he was in prison, Ulandis Forte would call his grandmother, Martha Wright-Reed, a couple of times a week and talk for about 15 minutes or less. The bill? Somewhere around $1,000 each year, Wright-Reed estimates.
To call home, America's prisoners (well, really their families, who accept the calls collect) pay rates many times what you or I spend on phone calls, the consequence of a dysfunctional marketplace in which the users have no choice but the phones provided -- literally a captive market -- and prison administrators can exact exorbitant commissions for providing the service. In Maryland, for example, where the commission can comprise up to 60 percent of the cost of a call, the rates are $2.55 for the first minute plus 30 cents per minute for intrastate calls and $2.70 for the first minute plus 30 cents for every minute thereafter for interstate calls. The state collected $5.2 million from such commissions in 2010. In effect, the high rates are a fee leveraged on the inmate population through which the prisoners fund their own incarceration.