The Federal Communications Commission will decide next month whether to limit rates and service fees for phone calls made by prison and jail inmates, the New York Times reports. The commission is seeking to regulate the $1.2 billion phone industry serving prisons and jails, which has been criticized for overcharging inmates' families. Rates for phone calls from jails and prisons are far more expensive than normal commercial charges and can cost as much as $14 a minute. Service fees can add 40 percent, resulting in phone bills as high as $500 a month.
The proposed rules would impose a rate of 11 cents a minute on state or federal prison calls and cap the cost of calls made from local jails at 14 to 22 cents a minute, based on the size of the institution. Those amounts generally fall between the rate of about 5 to 7 cents a minute that inmates' families and prison advocates sought and the rate of 20 cents a minute that companies in the prison phone industry proposed. Alex Friedmann of the Human Rights Defense Center, which has long pushed for lower phone rates in jails and prisons, said the commission’s proposal did not go far enough. “The changes will benefit prison families, but not to the extent that they could, and not to the extent that we had hoped that they would,” he said. Jails and prisons have become financially reliant on revenue received from prison phone companies, which pay millions of dollars in concession fees, called commissions, to win exclusive contracts.