Obama Administration Approves Plan To Make Prison Phone Calls More Affordable | Kulture Kritic
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Obama Administration Approves Plan To Make Prison Phone Calls More Affordable

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Obama Administration Approves Plan To Make Prison Phone Calls More Affordable

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The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to cap the rates and fees that companies can charge for phone service in prisons and jails.

Right now, providers can bill inmates and their families hundreds of dollars per month to make phone calls, tacking on exorbitant fees for transactions, account maintenance and other services. Inmates who can’t afford these costs don’t have other options, because providers monopolize service.

The practice has proven hugely profitable for companies like Securus Technologies, Global Tel*Link and Telmate. Prison operators also benefit because companies pay commissions in order to win contracts.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 15 Democrats called these payments kickbacks, and said they incentivize a system in which prisons profit from charging inmates higher rates.

“Voting to endorse today’s reforms will eliminate the most egregious case of market failure I have ever seen in my 17 years as a state and federal regulator,” FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, said on Thursday.

The new FCC proposal caps state and federal prison phone rates at 11 cents a minute. Jail rates will be capped at 14 to 22 cents per minute, depending on the number of people in the facility. The plan also limits additional fees and “strongly encourages parties to move away from site commissions.”

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The proposal has proven deeply unpopular with prison phone providers, several of whom threatened legal action against the FCC prior to the vote. Securus, whose earnings grew from$87 million in 2019 to $114.6 million last year, said that the preliminary proposal could be a “business-ending event.” The companies fear they will collect less per call, but will still have to pay commissions to prison operators.

The National Sheriffs’ Association was displeased with the ruling. “The rate caps established by the FCC will force many jails to limit, or eliminate altogether, access to phones because they simply cannot afford the cost of the service,” said Jonathan Thompson, executive director and CEO of the association.



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