Affordable inmate calling rates help families stay connected

By: Donna Epps

On Wednesday, inmates and their families moved one step closer to achieving affordable inmate calling rates. Ten years ago Martha Wright, a grandmother in DC petitioned the FCC to act on lowering exorbitant calling rates from correctional facilities. In 2013 the FCC under the leadership of acting-FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, lowered the interstate portion of excessive calling rates and provided relief to the millions of families struggling to maintain contact with incarcerated loved ones. Yesterday FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn jointly announced a proposal to make rates even more affordable.

Over the past two years Verizon has supported the FCC’s efforts to reduce excessive charges that inmates’ families pay to talk with them. As a previous provider of inmate-calling services (we provided these services until 2007), we have a unique historical perspective on this issue. As a result, we believe it is crucial that we stand with the families, public interest groups, prison-rights advocates and many others who have petitioned the FCC to take further action.

As I explained in my previous blog posts, everyone wins when inmates can stay connected to their family and friends with affordable inmate-calling services. Inmates that maintain connections with their families and support networks are more successful and have a lower rate of recidivism when they transition back into society.

The FCC’s 2013 Order capped the rates that inmate-calling service providers can charge for inmates making long-distance calls across state lines. Verizon supported that Order, and we went to court to defend the FCC’s decision when others challenged it (read our amicus brief). As a result of the Order, inmates talked to their family members more often, with calls between them increasing by 70%.

That was progress; now more is being done. Because 85% of calls from correctional facilities are made within a state rather than out of state, the FCC this week announced similar caps on rates for intrastate and other calls. We believe further reform will help curb the excessive fees and help the families still struggling to pay burdensome inmate-calling rates. Commissioner Clyburn and Chairman Wheeler deserve a lot of credit for their leadership on this important issue.

Donna Epps directs Verizon’s domestic public policy team, as well as relationships with our external partners. Prior to her current position, Ms. Epps worked in Verizon’s Federal Regulatory Affairs group where she developed and advocated Verizon’s federal regulatory policy positions on key issues facing the communications industry, with an emphasis on issues related to competition, economic regulation, and consumer protection.