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End Predatory Costs of Communication for Incarcerated People 11-10-21

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End Predatory Costs of Communication for Incarcerated People,
Support S. 1541 and H.R. 2489
The cost of communicating with incarcerated people is often predatory
and extractive. While some jails charge almost $17 for a 15-minute local
call, others charge only 45 cents. Prison phone companies charge up to
$8.20 for the first minute of a local call from jail. These outrageous
rates harm families and make it more difficult for incarcerated people
to succeed when they return home.
Policymakers on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that the current
marketplace for communication in correctional facilities has failed to
produce reasonable and competitive rates. Incarcerated people and
their families are not able to choose the phone company they use to communicate. Carceral officials
negotiate contracts in an anti-competitive and consolidated marketplace. Often phone companies
offer to collect additional ‘commissions’ from consumers in order to make substantial payments to
those institutions, which are borne by grandmothers, children, loved ones, clergy and counsel.
Although the Federal Communications Commission regulates phone rates, and Congress gave it
authority over all rates for incarcerated people in 1996, a decision by a federal appellate court in 2017
derailed its previous decades-long effort to protect consumers.
Two pieces of legislation in the U.S. House and Senate, both named after Martha Wright—a
grandmother who was a leader in fighting for just and reasonable rates before her death—aim to
address this problem. The bills are Senator Tammy Duckworth’s bi-partisan S. 1541, the Martha
Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act and Representative Bobby Rush’s H.R. 2489,
the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act. These bills must
become law because of their key features:
Protect consumers. The bills reaffirm Congress’ 1996
decision giving the FCC authority over all carceral rates
and requires rates to be “just and reasonable”—the same
standard that protects all other consumers.
Future-proof. Today’s correctional communications
providers utilize advanced technology to save costs and
provide security. Both bills apply regardless of technology
used, including to video communications.
Fair ratemaking process. Both bills ensure that the
FCC can use its standard processes to adopt rates. S. 1541
requires a rulemaking to be completed in 18 months and
permits the FCC to use appropriate data. H.R. 2489
requires regular rulemakings to ensure rates keep pace
with current trends, prohibits per-call charges and limits
ancillary fees.
Site commissions, interim rate cap. H.R. 2489
prohibits payments from a phone company to a carceral
institution and adopts an immediate interim rate cap of 4
and 5 cents per minute until the FCC completes its
rulemaking proceedings.

In Mathew 25:35-40
Jesus explains that the
way we treat “the least
of these” among us are
emblematic of the way
we treat God, including
those in prison. “I was
in prison, and you
visited me,” Jesus says.
“When did we visit
you?” ask his followers.
Jesus replies: “As you
did it to one of the least
of these brothers and
sisters, so you did it to
me.”

United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry | www.uccmediajustice.org

 

 

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