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FCC Will Not Give In To Phone Companies Charging Prisoners Exorbitant Long Distance Rates

By Annie-Rose Strasser

"FCC Will Not Give In To Phone Companies Charging Prisoners Exorbitant Long Distance Rates"

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Prison phone calls

CREDIT: AP

The Federal Communications Commission rejected complaints from phone companies last week and decided to move ahead with its plan to reduce the long-distance calling rates for prisons.

Since prisoners have no say in which service provider they use, they have been forced to absorb exorbitant costs for long distance calls — as much as $17 for a 15-minute call. But in August, the FCC announced it would start capping rates on such calls at 21 cents a minute for pre-paid calls and 25 cents a minute for collect calls.

Phone companies who contract with Corrections Departments across the country were displeased, and pledged to do everything in their power to stop the new rules from taking effect. Two companies, Securus Technologies and Global Tel*Link, requested a delay in implementing the new guidelines, which is what the FCC rejected last week.

“What we’ve built for the corrections industry is very secure and it helps solve tens of thousands of crimes a year, and it helps save thousands of lives a year,” Richard Smith of Securus Technologies, told the Huffington Post when the FCC first made its decision on rates. The company created a technology that detects when prisoners try to order hit jobs. “All of that good work gets undone when you paint us as bad guys who are making lots and lots of money, and we’re just raping the friends and families of inmates.”

Securus and Global Tel*Link control 80 percent of the market for prison phone calls.

Global Tel*Link, currently charges prisoners about double the FCC’s new rates (and a $2.40 fee per call), and pointed out that the revenue it gets from those calls is split between the state of Virginia and the company itself. In theory, this means that charging prisoners exorbitant rates reduces the cost of running a prison. But the long term effects of excessive phone charges may prove much more costly in the long term. Advocates for prisoners’ rights believe that having regular access to phone calls with family can help a prisoner rehabilitate. Studies show that inmates with regular contact with their families have lower rates of recidivism.

The new rate rules will be implemented by February 13, 2014.

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