Campaign for Prison Phone Justice

The "Campaign for Prison Phone Justice" is challenging prison phone kickbacks and the U.S. Prison Telephone Industry.
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Groups Urge Congresswoman Lee to Push Back Against Kickbacks

Aug 28, 2012 | by Nation Inside Team

A delegation of organizations from the California Bay Area met with the Deputy District Director of Congresswoman Barbara Lee to discuss the high cost of receiving a phone call from a prison, jail or detention center.

The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice has kicked things up a notch with “In-District Visits” scheduled throughout the months of August and September.

On August 23, 2012, a delegation of organizations from the California Bay Area met with the Deputy District Director of Congresswoman Barbara Lee to discuss the high cost of receiving a phone call from a prison, jail or detention center. This visit was held as part of a larger effort called the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice a national campaign seeking to lower the cost of prison phone calls.  Member-organizations of the delegation included the Center for Media Justice, Media Alliance, The Utility Reform Network (TURN) and Ella Baker Center. The delegation is petitioning the Congresswoman to ask the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to address the high cost of prison phone calls by passing the Wright Petition.

From left to right: Owen Li (Ella Baker Center), Sandra Johnson (Ella Baker Center),Tracy Rosenberg (Media Alliance), and Mark Toney (TURN)

The Wright Petition, which has been in front of the Commissioners since 2004, requests the agency to examine the public harm caused by high phone rates charged to people in prison.

Currently, a typical interstate collect call from a prison has a $3.95 connection fee (regardless of the length of the call), while rates per minute can be as high as $0.89 per minute.  This can result in charges of $10-17 for a 15-minute collect call or $300 per month.  Up to 60% of charges goes towards kickbacks to states and corporations.

“The phone market in state prison systems is worth more than an estimated $362 million annually in gross revenues,” says Tracy Rosenberg of Media Alliance. “Meanwhile, low-income families – disproportionately people of color and single mothers or grandmothers- have to choose between paying for medication, groceries and other necessities versus being able to take a call from their loved ones.”

Participants talked about what’s at stake for the families and loved ones struggling to stay connected. Sandra Johnson from Ella Baker Center who works on the Books Not Bars campaign talked about her struggles as a mother in prison, trying to take care of her family and look after her daughter.

Studies show that for the nearly three million children in the United States with one or both parents incarcerated, hearing the voices of their parents can often make the difference between a child feeling loved – even while enduring incarceration- or feeling totally abandoned.

Staying connected also increases the chances a person leaving prison will successfully reintegrate back into society.

“Phone calls are a critical part of the reentry process,” says Steven Renderos from Center for Media Justice. “These calls ensure that incarcerated individuals are able to maintain the social networks, which they need to secure parole, find housing, secure employment, and prepare for life outside of prison and detention facilities.“

California currently is one of only eight states that have banned these kickbacks – advocates say this makes the leadership and support of state legislators crucial to passing the Wright Petition. The lack of regulation on the federal level means that residents of California calling out of the state continue to shell out hundreds of dollars to stay connected to their loved ones in prisons and detention centers.

“People are sentenced to incarceration, families are not sentenced to outrageous phone bills – they shouldn’t have to choose between paying bills and talking to their son or mother,” adds Mark Toney of TURN.

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