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FCC Reduces Prison Call Rates

2-1 Vote Makes it More Affordable for Inmates to Phone Family, Friends

Stacy M. Brown | 8/9/2013, 5:37 p.m.
FCC Chair Mignon Clyburn (Courtesy photo)

More than a decade after a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., dismissed a class action lawsuit filed by Northeast resident Martha Wright, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted in favor of reforming telephone call rates for inmates in all U.S. prisons.

The 2-1 vote on Friday, Aug. 9, immediately caps collect call rates for inmates at 25 cents per minute. The FCC also banned extra fees to connect a call or for using calling cards.

“It’s been a long, long time coming,” FCC Chair Mignon Clyburn said.

“This action is a means to help strengthen families. Communication is the key, particularly when families are separated,” said Clyburn, 51.

Wright welcomed the news. She paid approximately $1,000 per year to cover the costs of calls from her incarcerated grandson while he served time in various state prisons, said Wright, 87.

“It’s about time,” she said. “I had faith this would happen, and now it has.”

Prior to the FCC action, rates for telephone calls averaged about $4 per call, with up to an additional .55 cents per minute for long distance calls.

Some privately operated prisons reportedly charged even higher rates.

In addition to the 25 cents a minute rate for collect calls, FCC commissioners also imposed a 21-cent-per-minute fee ceiling on prepaid calling card calls and those made using debit cards.

Clyburn said it will take about 120 days for the new rates to take effect on prepaid calling cards and debit cards.

The changes are set to apply to interstate calls at all facilities, including juvenile detention centers, county jails, state and federal prisons and those which are privately operated.

“We could also soon issue new regulations on whether caps should be applied to calls made within state boundaries,” Clyburn said.

Ulandis Forte, Wright’s grandson, spent 18 years in various prisons throughout the country until his release in 2012.

He said what helped to keep him strong, focused and sane during his near two-decade incarceration were the phone calls he was able to make to his grandmother.

"The calls were everything. It was what I looked forward to all of the time," he said. "My grandmother is a special woman, she was my support system and she gave me love," said Forte, 39.

Wright said she often couldn't afford to accept the collect calls from prisons scattered throughout the U.S.

"It’s unfair that people can't talk to their loved ones because of the high rates," Forte said.