Prison Phone Call Industry About to Be Fixed

By Jonathan Blecher on January 15, 2023

The prison phone call industry is a lucrative and predatory business that exploits the vulnerability of incarcerated individuals and their families. This industry operates by providing a telephone service for inmates to call loved ones and maintain communication while behind bars. However, these services often come with exorbitant fees and charges that can put a significant financial burden on families.

One of the primary issues with the prison phone call industry is the high cost of calls. In many cases, inmates are charged a per-minute fee for calls, which can quickly add up. These fees are often significantly higher than the cost of a regular phone call, making it difficult for families to afford to stay in touch with their loved ones. Additionally, there are often hidden fees associated with these calls, such as charges for using a debit or credit card to pay for the call or fees for setting up an account.

Another issue with the prison phone call industry is the lack of competition, which allows companies to charge exorbitant rates without fear of losing business. In some cases, prisons have exclusive contracts with a single phone service provider, making it difficult for inmates and their families to shop around for a better deal. This lack of competition also makes it difficult for new companies to enter the market and offer lower-cost options.

This phone call industry also disproportionately affects marginalized communities, including low-income families and people of color. Incarcerated individuals are often from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the high cost of phone calls can make it even more difficult for them to maintain contact with their loved ones and support networks. This can lead to increased isolation and depression, which can have negative impacts on an inmate’s mental health and overall well-being.

There have been efforts to address the predatory nature of the prison phone call industry, including the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) ruling in 2015 that capped the cost of interstate prison phone calls at 25 cents per minute. However, this ruling has not been fully implemented, and many states have not followed suit in capping the cost of intrastate calls. More recently, In a bi-partisan effort, Congress passed legislation allowing the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the rates of prison phone calls. The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 now awaits President Joe Biden’s signature.

This may include supporting efforts to cap the cost of prison phone calls and promoting competition in the market to drive down prices. It is also important for individuals and families to be aware of the costs associated with prison phone calls and to seek out lower-cost options, such as video calling or messaging services, whenever possible.

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