One in nine Black children has a parent in prison.
Tell the FCC: End predatory prison phone rates.
In 2000, 74-year-old Martha Wright began a class action lawsuit against Corrections Corporation of America.1 The grandmother was suing the prison phone company for charging extortionary phone rates, which she had to pay to keep in touch with her incarcerated grandson, Ulandis. Martha sacrificed basic needs, like her medications, so she would be able to pay the $200 phone bill every month.2 But she knew that no parent, grandparent or significant other should have to do what she did, so she became the lead plaintiff in the class action that began this effort 15 years ago. The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice and a coalition of organizations including ColorofChange are still working to honor her legacy.
As a part of that work, thousands of ColorofChange members have raised their voices about the predatory prison phone rates that impact millions of families with incarcerated loved ones. For years, prison phone companies got rich off the backs of a captive audience, charging families rates as high as $17 for a 15-minute call.3 After hearing from you, the Federal Communications Commission took the huge step of capping long-distance prison calls at a max rate of $3.75.4
But our work is not done. Local and state governments still continue to receive massive kickbacks from prison phone companies in exchange for exclusive contracts. These kickbacks are subsidized by sky-high fees companies levy on families—mostly black and brown—fighting to stay connected to loved ones. While the FCC rule limited kickbacks and capped long-distance calls, those calls are only a fraction of the service provided by prison phone companies. Families need rules that cap sky-high phone rates on local calls to prisons, too.
Families should not be subsidizing states' penal budgets and padding the pockets of phone companies.
Tell the FCC to stop predatory prison phone rates once and for all by capping in-state calls at the lowest rate possible.
Black communities face an ever widening racial wealth gap, in addition to an increase in unjust profiling, sentencing and the over-incarceration of Black people. By contrast, the prison phone industry generates more than a billion dollars a year.5 One of the ways in which these companies increase their profits is by charging exorbitant phone fees to low-income families of color—the people who can least afford it.
Phone calls are a necessary lifeline for people who are incarcerated. Research shows that maintaining relationships with loved ones is a strong indicator of success for anyone returning to his or her community after serving time.6 A measure to cap all prison phone call rates would have the greatest impact for Black families. One in ten Black men in their 30s is incarcerated, and Black women, who make up only 13 percent of the female population, make up 30 percent of the women in prison.7,8 If the FCC ends the predatory practices of prison phone service providers, these families will be able to connect without sacrificing the money they need for food, medicine or other basic necessities.
The FCC has already taken a significant step by capping the rates on interstate phone calls, but that only covers a fraction of all the families affected by price gouging in for-profit prisons. In addition, far cheaper rates than the current cap are possible. Ten states across the country already have rates less than 10 cents a minute.9 Urge them to take the next and final step by capping phone rates on all prison phone calls.
And after you sign, please help us spread the word by sharing it with your family and friends.
Thanks and Peace,
Rashad, Arisha, Brandi, Brittaney and the rest of the ColorOfChange team.
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1. “Martha Wright v. Corrections Corporation of America (FCC Petition),” Center for Constitutional Rights
2. “After almost a decade, FCC has yet to rule on high cost of prison phone calls,” Washington Post, 12-2-2012
3. “The FCC Looks into the Prison Telephone Racket,” The Marshall Project, 12-4-2014
4. FCC Docket No. 12-375: Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Federal Communications Commission. 10-22-2014.
5. “The High Cost of Calling the Imprisoned,” New York Times, 3-30-2015
6. "Family Connections During Imprisonment and Prisoners’ Community Reentry" (.pdf), Jane Addams Center for Social Policy and Research, University of Illinois at Chicago, Winter 2004
7. “Racial Disparity,” The Sentencing Project
8. “Facts About The Over-Incarceration Of Women In The United States,” ACLU
9. “Intrastate (in-state) Collect Prison Phone Rates,” Prison Phone Justice
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