New bill could finally fix the exorbitant cost of inmate phone calls

Criminal just reform advocates have been fighting for nearly two decades to fix a persistent and egregious flaw in the US prison system: the huge cost related to inmate phone calls, which can generally run up to $17 for a 15-minute local phone call. Let that sink in for a minute. Considering multiple factors, it has created a very broken billing system that certain Federal Communications Commission official Mignon Clyburn has called “the greatest, most distressing, type of injustice I have ever seen in the communications sector.”

Though, a recently introduced bill could help solve the problems. Last Thursday, a bipartisan group of US senators introduced a bill that can help to restore federal authority and crack down on what prison reform advocates call the “usurious,” “abusive,” and “exploitive” business practices of a small handful of companies that are dominating the $1.2 billion US prison phone industry.

For many years now, GTL and Securus have enjoyed the monopoly power in many states where they charge inmates, families, lawyers, and clergy very excessive rates that go as high as $500. For a family where their breadwinner may be locked behind bars, that’s a lot of money just to stay in touch with their loved one.

“Our bipartisan legislation will help make sure that prison telecommunication rates are fair so family members can more easily afford to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones, improving the odds that rehabilitated offenders will be able to become productive members of society upon their release,” Duckworth said in a statement announcing the bill.

Clyburn wants to help ease the financial burden and personal hardship on families that are facing the extremely high phone rates. “For far too long inmates and their loved ones have suffered under the burden of egregious inmate calling and video visitation rates,” Clyburn said in a statement where he praised the bill. “I look forward to the day where we can truly say that inmate calling rates across the nation are just and reasonable.”