FCC votes to cap prison and jail phone call rates

PAUL J. RICHARDS AFP/Getty Images

PAUL J. RICHARDS AFP/Getty Images

A federal proposal to cap prison and jail phone call rates could receive final approval next month.

Currently, Michigan inmates pay an average of 20 cents per minute for phone calls. Under the proposal, that would be nearly cut in half, to 11 cents per minute.

Chris Gautz is a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections. He said the move could hurt prison budgets. He said phone calls generate 12 million dollars a year for the department.

“We use the revenue from that to directly provide programming and services to prisoners so, these dollars from these phone calls go to pay for teachers and counselors and therapists that provide sex offender programming and violence prevention programming.”

Advocacy groups argue that prisons typically don’t use money generated from phone calls for prisoner services. Aleks Kajstura is with the Prison Policy Initiative based in Massachusetts. The PPI is one of the groups that pushed the FCC to cap the rates.

“Often times the jails claim that this is going to go to programming for the inmates, but what we’ve seen is that these funds just end up growing in the accounts and the money doesn’t actually come out for any services for the inmates.”

Kajstrua said lower phone rates would help inmates and their loved ones stay in touch more often.

“Everybody wants to stay in touch with their families, but for inmates it’s also really important for reducing recidivism. So not only do the families benefit, but all of society benefits as recidivism rates are lowered.”

Chris Gautz said county jails would likely be even more impacted than state prisons. Jails set their own price for calls, along with the phone providers they use.

“There’s a worry, not so much at the prison level, but at a lot of the county jails where they’re fewer prisoners or fewer people being held, so there’s not as much volume and so that’s actually — it could impact the jails more than the prisons.”

A final ruling is expected in December.