Civil rights groups want lowest possible phone rates for prisoners

The groups argued that inmates and their families are often charged $15 for just a 15-minute phone call, meaning that a one-hour call once a week would cost $240 per month.

"Charging significantly higher rates for phone calls from prison unfairly punishes inmates’ families, who are ultimately responsible for paying these costs," the groups wrote.

They argued that regular contact with friends and family can help keep prisoners from committing new offenses after they are released. 

Prisons request bids from telephone companies to provide service and often require each bid to include a fee to the prison. Inmates and their families have only one option for which service to use.  

The groups argued that the system has led to "exorbitant" and "exploitative" charges. 

Verizon, MetroPCS and other companies also backed steps to reduce the costs for inmates and their families.  Verizon urged the FCC to examine exclusive contracts and the commissions paid to prisons.

"Because higher rates necessarily reduce inmates’ telephone communications with their families and thus impede the well-recognized societal benefits resulting from such communications, other funding sources should be pursued," Verizon wrote in its filing.

Libertarian think tank TechFreedom wrote that "whatever crime a prisoner might have committed, it is both counter-productive and unjust to tax their communications with their family and communities."

In its filing with the FCC, the Louisiana Department of Corrections wrote that its goals are public safety and rehabilitation of inmates. It argued that it relies on commissions from the phone companies to fund security monitoring of phone calls. It wrote that monitoring phone calls often leads to investigations to thwart smuggling, witness intimidation and other crimes.

"As the offenders and their families benefit by the provision of these services and as it was the actions of the offenders that caused their incarceration, it is only fair that the cost of providing telephone services to offenders be borne by the offenders and their families and not the tax payers at large," the agency wrote.