Appeals Court Rejects Caps on the Cost of Prison Phone Calls

Prison inmates and their families know that it’s expensive to make calls from prison. One prison inmate reports spending more than $130 per month to make a 20-minute phone call each day. Prisoners say that it’s a way to kick inmates and their families when they’re already down. They say that it’s an easy way to soak families who are desperate to maintain relationships despite incarceration.

However, the Court of Appeals said that the FCC overstepped its bounds when they placed a cap on the costs of phone calls from prison. In the case Global Tel-Link v. FCC, the Court of Appeals said that the FCC doesn’t have the authority to regulate the cost of prison phone calls. In addition, they said that the way the FCC chose to regulate the phone calls doesn’t make any sense.

The telecommunications companies say that their costs are justified. They say that providing phone monitoring is expensive. They say that providing phone service to prison inmates is different than providing phone service to any other entity.

Inmates say that the cost of the technology to make phone calls from prison has decreased dramatically. They say that it just doesn’t cost what it used to for inmates to stay in touch with their loved ones during their period of incarceration. They say that phone calls today are no more expensive than a typical cell phone plan with a recording system attached. They say that it’s no longer the long-distance calling system that it used to be.

Advocates for inmate groups say that the real problem is the commissions paid to law enforcement agencies for the calls. Prison managers choose phone contractors by a competitive bidding system. To secure a bid to provide prison phone service, most of the phone companies pay a commission back to the prison or other law enforcement agency. That is, the prison receives a percentage of what the prison spends on the phone call.

Advocacy groups say that kickbacks are an unfair incentive for prisons to keep prices high. They say that it’s not in the best interests of inmates and their families. They say that evidence shows that inmates who stay in touch with their families do much better after they return to society. They say that the families of incarcerated individuals should not have to choose between putting food on the table and speaking to their loved one. Despite the court’s ruling, the issue of the high costs of prison phone calls continues to be a matter of discussion and debate.

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