States enjoy kickback from prison phone gougers

The families of prisoners in the U.S. often have to pay rates as high as $12.95 for 15 minutes of phone time to stay in touch with an incarcerated spouse, child, or parent.

Global Tel-Link Corp. and Securus Technologies are the two main prison phone service providers, and they make a fortune charging poor people over 100 times the typical rate for a phone call. They reason they can get away with it is that they give generous kick-backs to state and local governments for giving them contracts to be the exclusive phone service providers for prisons under their control.

Here's a Demand Progress petition urging the Federal Communications Commission to cap the cost of local prison phone calls at the lowest rate possible.

It wasn't always this way: rates used to be similar to those outside the prison walls. But over the course of the last twenty years, a handful of private companies have come to dominate the prison phone market that families rely on.

Securus, which provides phone services to 2,600 prisons and jails in 47 states, made a record profit of $114.6 million in 2014 alone — with their profits rising $10 million every year between 2008 and 2013.

The FCC is poised to vote on capping these rates in just a few weeks.

How did we get here? Kickbacks. Local and state governments are wooed by big money from prison phone companies in exchange for exclusive contracts in their jails and prisons.

Companies can afford these kickbacks thanks to the fees they levy on families. And while the FCC took strong steps to limit these kickbacks and cap rates on long-distance phone calls, families making phone calls to local prisons are still paying the price.

With so many families in America struggling to get ahead, these rates are an obvious burden on their bottom lines. And these sky-high rates hurt prisoners just as much, if not more — research shows that maintaining relationships with loved ones is a strong indicator of success for anyone returning to his or her community after serving time.

But momentum is on our side, and cheaper rates are possible. 11 states across the country already have rates less than 10 cents/minute — including some as low at 3.2 cents/minute. And just this week, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn teamed up with Chairman Tom Wheeler to propose new rate caps on ALL inmate calls, including the intrastate calls that happen within a state.

It's time to show the FCC that thousands of Demand Progress members support a cap on ALL prison phone calls ahead of their vote.

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