Administration pushes to lower phone call charges for prisoners

Collect calling is often the only option available to prisoners who want to dial out. Rates for collect calls can range from 5 cents to 89 cents per minute, and a 15-minute chat can cost as much as $17 in some states.

“Tens of thousands of consumers who have written, emailed, and yes, phoned the commission, pleading for relief on interstate long distance rates from correctional facilities,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

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The Obama administration says making it cheaper for inmates to call friends and loved ones can help curb recidivism. The FCC cites two Government Accountability Office studies that found contact with family “aids an inmate’s success when returning to the community,” thereby lowering the chances an inmate will return to prison.

“There are well over two million children with at least one parent behind bars, and regardless of their circumstances, both children and parents gain from regular contact with one another,” Clyburn wrote in December.

The FCC has received some pushback on the plan. Some say the proposals under consideration — such as a cap on per-minute charges — would stifle innovation and put companies out of business.

Another proposal floated by the administration would allow prisoners one free 20-minute phone call per month.

Comments on the FCC’s 24-page regulatory proposal are due by March 22.