FCC Votes to Stop Phone Providers From Gouging Inmates

'The most egregious case of market failure I have ever seen'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 22, 2015 5:18 PM CDT
The FCC voted Thursday to cap the rates and fees prison and jail phone providers can charge inmates and their families.   (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

(Newser) – Phone calls can cost inmates and their families up to $14 a minute, NBC News reports. But that changed Thursday when the FCC voted 3-2 to cap the rates and fees phone providers can charge for service in US prisons and jails, according to the Huffington Post. "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 says. NBC reports the FCC started looking at the issue in 2013 because of a Washington DC grandmother who was spending $1,000 a year to talk to her incarcerated grandson. Ulandis Forte says his grandmother sometimes had to decide between paying for her medication and talking to him, but he credits her calls with enabling him to turn his life around after his release.

The move, which caps rates at 11 cents per minute for prisons and 14 to 22 cents per minute for jails and limits fees, was supported by 26 civil and human rights groups, HuffPo reports. "Studies show keeping communication in between families members and incarcerated loved ones reduces recidivism, and that helps us all," one supporter tells NBC. Rate caps were strongly opposed by the phone providers—who call the vote a "business-ending event" and are threatening legal action—and the National Sheriffs' Association—which says it may have to eliminate inmates' access to phones now, HuffPo reports. Under the old system, prisons and jails received what have been called "kickbacks" in return for giving contracts to phone providers. In its vote, the FCC "strongly encouraged" ending that practice. (Read more jail stories.)

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