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FCC passes rule cracking down on prison phone call charges

FCC passes rule cracking down on prison phone call charges

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The FCC has passed a rule limiting the cost of calls to and from prison inmates. Following a proposal circulated earlier this month, the agency has set caps on the per-minute cost of a phone call, along with limits on the extra fees that prison phone service providers can charge. In a fact sheet, the FCC says that its rules will reduce the average cost of the "vast majority" of inmate calls to $1.65 for 15 minutes, down from $2.96 for intrastate calls and $3.15 for interstate ones.

The decision follows a 2013 move that set lower rates for interstate phone calls, capping the cost for a 15-minute call at $3.75 instead of — in some extreme cases — up to $17. Commissioner and former FCC chair Mignon Clyburn has previously said that this measure was a first step toward larger prison phone call reform; the cap was an interim measure, and the reform didn't address calls within states instead of across them.

Now, federal prisons can charge a maximum of 11 cents a minute, with rates for smaller local jails going up to 22 cents. Companies can add flat extra charges for bills, but they're banned from tacking on other fees, and they can no longer charge flat fees that require families to pay for full 15-minute blocks even when making shorter calls. The rules also discourage what are known as "site commissions," deals where phone companies offer a percentage of their revenue back to prisons — creating extra costs that are passed along to inmates and families.

Prison phone services are provided by specialized companies like Securus Technologies, which add extra security and monitoring features for correctional institutions. Providers have said that these features, intended to prevent inmates from contacting victims or carrying out further crimes, are covered by the higher costs. The FCC, however, has called companies' rates "exorbitant," saying that they also discourage inmates from maintaining contact with friends and family who could help them successfully re-enter society after release.