Today Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman and Rep. Bobby L. Rush sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowsi to request action to address the high costs of prison phone calls for incarcerated individuals to communicate with their families.
"Affordable phone calls home are a proven way to reduce the high social and economic costs of incarceration and recidivism," said Rep. Waxman. "Inmates' families have been waiting for relief for almost a decade. It's time for the FCC to take action."
"Communications policy and regulation should be pushing families closer together, not further apart," said Rep. Rush. "Due to exorbitantly high rates, families are being punished for actions they didn't take and forced to make tough choices they shouldn't have to make -- should a wife and her child have to think twice about calling an incarcerated husband on an anniversary or to decide where is best to send the child to school, or whether the family of an incarcerated mother will accept the charges of a call she wants to make to wish her child a happy birthday? Given all the amazing progress we've made in offering cheaper but still secure, communications networking and systems over the last decade, it shouldn't take the FCC one more decade to ensure that prison phone services are priced in line with their true costs and made more affordable. I urge the FCC to act immediately and decisively."
September 12, 2012
The Honorable Julius Genachowski
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
Dear Chairman Genachowski:
We write in regard to a matter that has been pending at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for close to a decade: the exorbitant rates that the families of prisoners pay to communicate with an incarcerated family member. Although this issue has been the subject of several rounds of notice and comment, as well as legislation introduced by Rep. Rush during the 110th Congress, the FCC has yet to take final action. We urge you to do so as soon as possible.
Research shows that regular contact between prisoners and family members during incarceration reduces recidivism. Phone calls are the primary means for families to maintain contact with incarcerated relatives. Experts across the political spectrum have recommended minimizing the cost of prison phone calls as a way to support strong family relationships with inmates. Yet under current policies and practices, prisoners and their families pay unusually high rates for phone service that discourage regular contact. In fact, a one hour call from prison often costs as much as a month of unlimited home phone service.
When inmates and families lose contact, society ultimately pays the price. Over 67% of released prisoners are rearrested within three years. At a time when the United States has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world and spends nearly $58 billion per year to manage its prison population, we should be doing more to reduce recidivism.
The extremely high cost of phone calls for prisoners and their families led a group of affected individuals to seek relief from the FCC. That request, known as the Wright Petition, has been before the Commission since 2003. Over five years ago, the Wright petitioners proposed rates that would ensure reasonable and affordable phone service for inmates and their families without short-changing states, prisons, and telephone service providers.
Recently, a coalition of civil rights groups and conservative leaders wrote the FCC asking the agency to cap the rates charged for interstate prison phone calls. This diverse coalition of advocates came together to urge FCC action because of their common view that exorbitant prison phone rates do nothing to further the safety of our society or help rehabilitate prisoners. In fact, they conclude that allowing current practices to continue is not sound public policy. The coalition also notes that its proposed policy change will not undermine prison security.
Earlier this week, the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report on the prison phone system titled The Price to Call Home: State-Sanctioned Monopolization in the Prison Phone Industry. This study also concludes that high prison phone rates harm society both economically and socially and recommends that the FCC approve the Wright Petition and cap prison phone rates. Notably, the study asserts that lower prison telephone rates would lessen the ongoing security problem of contraband cell phones in prisons. Accordingly, lowering prison telephone rates "would improve safety by providing less incentive for incarcerated people to acquire contraband cell phones." 
We encourage the FCC to move expeditiously to resolve this issue. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Henry A. Waxman
Bobby L. Rush