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February 01, 2015

Inmate Calling Services

In response to a second call for comments, the ABA recently urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use its rulemaking authority to continue to do more to address the extremely high phone rates that families are required to pay for phone contact with incarcerated family members. In Jan. 26 comments to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowshi, the ABA emphasized that a prisoner’s ability to maintain a close connection with his or her family and community while incarcerated rests largely on phone calls. Until 1984, commercial payphone services within state correctional facilities across the country were operated almost exclusively by AT&T and offered at the same price as similar services offered to the general public. Since 1984, after AT&T was broken up due to antitrust violations, states have entered into individual exclusive agreements with a host of telecommunications providers that have resulted in very high rates paid to companies that return the largest portion of revenue to the states through site commissions. Although the FCC has taken important initial steps toward excessively high interstate phone rates by adopting interstate rate caps and requiring data collection, the agency has done nothing with regard to intrastate rates. The ABA’s Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners emphasized that correctional facilities should initiate re-entry planning during incarceration; ensure open and affordable lines of communication between a prisoner and the prisoner’s family and community; and not burden the prisoner with arbitrary fees while he or she is incarcerated. The ABA comments recommend that the FCC ensure that rates are just and reasonable through removing barriers to entry for competing telecommunications providers, barring site commissions, and enforcing caps on prison phone call rates, especially intrastate calling rates.

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