2013/01/17

FCC Proposed Rulemaking on Prison Phone Rates

Here is a small but very important and effective way you can improve life for two million people in the US and their families.

From the excellent SF Bayview newspaper I found out about this promising proposed rulemaking by the FCC. As you may know if you have ever had to communicate with somebody in prison, the phone rates are exorbitant. There can be per-call and per-minute charges, as well as usurious fees simply to transfer money into a prisoner's account. The boyfriend of one prisoner writes:
My girlfriend is currently incarcerated in Kentucky. Every time she calls me through the prison call system it costs $8.17. On top of that, every time I put money on my account with Securus, whether it is $10 or $500 it costs $6.95 per transaction. It has cost me almost $100 for eight phone calls lasting fifteen minutes each.
Apparently there is a pressure group, the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, dedicated to "challenging prison phone kickbacks and the U.S. Prison Telephone Industry". They have a press release about the FCC's decision, but amazingly no link to the decision itself nor yet any instructions on how to submit a comment.

So I decided to dig around on my own. On the FCC's website you can find the proceeding (12-375), in particular the relevant 34-page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (PDF). The upshot is that we have until about the end of February to submit comments on the proposal.

You can read some of the submitted comments here. Some of the notes from family members of prisoners are heartbreaking.

Here's a step-by-step guide of how to submit a comment yourself.

  1. Write up your comment in whatever application you wish (Microsoft Word, TextEdit, whatever).
  2. Print it or save it as a PDF file (this is the most accessible format). Remember where this file is on your computer.
  3. Go to the FCC's Submit a Filing page.
  4. At the top of the form, enter the Proceeding Number: 12-375 (make sure you get this right).
  5. Fill out your name, and near the bottom of the form, your address. Keep in mind that this information will be publicly available.
  6. Attach your comment by clicking the "Browse..." button at the bottom of the form and selecting the PDF file from step 2.
  7. Click "Continue". If that brings you to a confirmation page, confirm your submission.
It will take about a business day for your comment to be available on the web - you should then see it in the list of comments.

Here are my comments in full:

The cost of calls from prison is inexcusably higher than generally available long-distance service, which can be provided in bulk at less than five cents a minute.

As a matter of justice and compassion for prisoners and their families, their calls should be as cheap as possible. Five cents a minute with no per-call or per-month costs is completely reasonable.

Any additional overhead required by the state for alleged security reasons should be borne by the state - which then has an actual incentive to reduce it. With over two million people incarcerated - the population of a small country - any such costs should be subject to economies of scale.

Please submit a comment today, and pass this along. Thanks!

4 comments:

ben said...

how difficult/time-costly would it be to build an app that automates a few of these steps (e.g. inserting the ref number) and unifies the process? Do you think it would be worth doing if it meant more people would use and share it, because it was more alike the now familiar epetition form? It's not that the steps you outline are all that hard but it's all relative to who you are and how time-starved. I'm sure you already considered this.

Martin MacKerel said...

It could be done. Not sure if the FCC's website has terms that prohibit that. Also, the cost of an action is a factor in its importance. This is not very hard, but hard enough that submitting a comment means something.

I wouldn't want this to be like commenting on YouTube videos.

wow said...

If we can't afford to record all of the conversations of every call then we need to not do it or reduce the number of people incarcerated. Not pass on that cost to the people awaiting trail that are supposed to be proven innocent before treated like they are already guilty. And if guilty they need to be saving money in order to be able to start a life and not spending it on just surviving while on the inside. Its part of the system of the judicial system wanting people to become career criminals with no way out because they become life long sources of income for these companies contacted to work with the jails.

Martin MacKerel said...

Wow, I think it's important to recognize that allowing prisoners to make cheap calls to their families is not only a humane thing to do, but reduces their risk of becoming a "career criminal" by maintaining their connection with the outside world.