Clyburn pushes FCC to cut prison phone rates

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A coalition of civil liberties and public interest groups launched a petition earlier this year, urging the FCC to prevent prisons from charging "predatory" phone rates.

Clyburn said that Genachowski, who controls the commission's agenda, has been "receptive" to the petition. 

"My discussions with him and his office have been very positive about the next steps needed to move forward in this proceeding," she said, adding that she hopes the chairman will propose a rule-making on the issue soon.

The petition claims that the current prison phone system encourages exorbitant rates.

Many prisons request bids from telephone companies to provide service and require each bid to include a fee to the prison. There is little incentive for the prison to keep the charges low. Inmates and their families have only one option for which service to use.  

Clyburn said families can spend $34 or more for two 30-minute phone calls in one month. She noted that many low-income families cannot afford that cost on top of their regular phone bills.

"Connecting husbands to wives, parents to children, and grandparents to grandchildren should be a national priority because these tangible means of communicating not only will help these families keep in contact, but the general society benefits overall, as studies show that prisoners are less likely to re-offend if they are able to maintain these relationships with their loved ones," she said.