03/27/2013 05:10 pm ET

FCC Could Crackdown On Phone Companies 'Price Gouging' Inmates For Calls

The Federal Communications Commission is weighing whether to cap the amount phone companies can charge prison inmates for calls to their friends and families.

This week, the civil rights group Color Of Change delivered more than 25,000 public comments to the FCC urging the commission to stop what it calls "price gouging" inmates and their loved ones. The FCC is considering a proposal that would keep prison calls in line with what the general public pays.

"Indefensible price gouging for basic communication is a fact of life for millions of American families with loved ones who are currently incarcerated," Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of, said in a news release. "They're a captive audience for the phone service providers awarded monopoly contracts by prison operators, and are accordingly charged 15 times — or more — than regular phone rates.”

As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last month, phone companies claim they charge more for prison communications "because of additional equipment that is installed to control and monitor calls for inmates."

But Color Of Change claims in the release that "public corrections agencies and private prisons strike deals that will benefit them the most, and in some states commissions on phone calls — kickbacks — can make up as much as 60 percent of phone charges."

Essentially, the organization's argument is that phone companies and corrections agencies strike deals that make both parties money, while leaving prisoners and their families struggling to pay inflated rates.

Part of the issue lies outside the FCC's jurisdiction. The agency regulates interstate calls, but not calls made between points within any given state, according to the Planes Dealer.

Robinson said keeping families in contact is a key way to keep inmates from returning to prison after they're released.

"Maintaining family bonds while in prison is key for mitigating the countless challenges of imprisonment, and is known to greatly decrease recidivism and facilitate re-entry,” Robinson said in the release.

The organization also said price controls would help keep people like Color Of Change member "Melanie" from spending thousands on calls.

"My son's father has been incarcerated going on a year now and has many more to go and just over the past year I've spent almost $3,000 just on the phone," Melanie said in her comment to the FCC. "That's crazy and ridiculous.”



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