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Want to slash your phone bill? Go to jail. Go directly to jail

Your lock-in problems are nothing compared to prisoners gouged for phone calls

By Simon Sharwood, 23 Oct 2015

The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has slashed phone call prices for prisoners.

The FCC considered prison call rates because they're often exorbitant: some prisons outsource the phones used for “inmate calling services” (ICS) and receive payment for doing so. Providers of ICS then charge prices rather higher than those available outside prisons' walls: the FCC says it can cost as much as US$14 per minute to make a long-distance call from a US prison.

Prisoners' families already face plenty of hardships: expensive phone calls to stay in touch with loved ones inside doesn't help matters at all. And as the FCC fact sheet (PDF) on the matter explains, that's a problem because “Studies have shown that contact between inmates and their families and loved ones during incarceration reduces recidivism.”

Higher call costs means less contact and greater potential for a return to prison. The FCC therefore pitched ICS costs as reforms that “... will help inmates and their families stay in touch by making calling more affordable, and benefit society as a whole by helping inmates transition more smoothly back into society upon their release.”

In a Thursday vote, the FCC therefore agreed on a raft of reforms to cut the cost of calls made from inside.

The cuts mean prices will fall from “$2.96 to no more than $1.65 for a 15-minute intrastate call for most calls, and from $3.15 to no more than $1.65 for most 15-minute interstate calls.” The reference to 15-minute calls is in the FCC's explanation because come ICS providers today charge for a 15-minute call even if the chat runs for less time. That practice is now banned.

New regulations also cap ancillary fees carriers can charge to connect calls to and from prisons.

The FCC's changes will make an impact, as according to the International Centre for Prison Studies (PDF) the United States “has the highest prison population rate in the world, 716 per 100,000 of the national population” and a prison population of 2.24 million souls. Cutting calling costs will therefore touch on a lot of people.

By way of contrast, the Centre's 2013 data says the United Kingdom has just over 94,000 prisoners about 132 prisoners per 100,000 of national population. ®

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