Domingo Howard is a “single pops” to a 5-year-old girl he is raising by working part-time jobs. His son, 24, landed in the San Francisco County Jail in January. As “the only person” his son can count on, the two speak on the phone often, Howard said, but the costs of staying in touch have soared to as much as $400 a month, plunging the 42-year-old warehouse worker into debt, reports the Los Angeles Times. It’s a story that is echoing across the country, as state lawmakers and the Federal Communications Commission move to take on an industry they say has long charged exorbitant calling rates to a captive audience of prison and jail inmates.
The steep charges are the result of a contracting system in which the companies pay “commissions” to correctional institutions while charging fees to cover those costs. San Francisco is taking steps to halt the practice. It is one of the nation’s first local jurisdictions to do so. At San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s urging, the Board of Supervisors last week voted to amend the county contract with Virginia-based GTL to reduce the cost of calls dramatically. “We just decided to stop the bleeding of poor people,” Mirkarimi said, noting that successful reentry into society can depend on strong family ties. The cost of a 15-minute collect in-state regional call, such as those to a neighboring county, will drop by 70 percent, to $4.05 from $13.35. A 15-minute collect local call will now cost $2.75 instead of $4.45. This year, the FCC capped the cost of interstate calls from correctional facilities between 21 and 25 cents per minute, and federal regulators are exploring whether to expand those efforts to in-state calls.