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April 01, 2016

Inmate Calling

A new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule issued last fall to address the extremely high phone rates charged to prison inmates has been put on hold by a federal appeals court after phone service providers and several states challenged the FCC’s authority and said that the new rates are too low. The rule, announced in October 2015 and scheduled to go into effect this spring, set a cap of 11 cents per minute for all local and long distance calls from state and federal prisons while providing for tiered caps on rates for jails that range from 14 cents per minute for calls in jails with 1,000 or more inmates to 22 cents per minute for jails up to 349 inmates. The rule, if it goes into effect, would reduce the average rate for most calls to no more than $1.65 for 15-minute local and long distance calls from state and federal prisons. Prior to approval of the new rule, rates averaged about $3 for a 15-minute call but sometimes could reach as high as $14 per minute.  While the court stayed implementation of the caps and a related rule limiting fees for certain single-call services, the court allowed implementation of caps and restrictions on ancillary fees. The court stay does not affect rates set in 2013 on interstate calling. “Ultimately, we believe the court will uphold the new rates set by the commission,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in a statement issued following the decision. “We look forward to the day when we stop erecting barriers to communications and have a system where all rates and fees paid by friends and family to stay in touch with their loved ones in jail or prison will be just, fair and reasonable,” The ABA supports the new rule, saying in comments that the FCC’s actions call for jails and state and federal prison facilities to operate closely in line with the ABA Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners. The standards call for open and affordable lines of communications between a prisoner and the prisoner’s family and attorney to help with re-entry planning during incarceration.

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