Stop Prison-Phone Corporations from Exploiting Incarcerated People and Their Families
The coronavirus pandemic is incredibly dangerous to incarcerated people, who have limited access to basic hygiene products, largely inadequate health services and no way to socially distance. At a time when communication with loved ones is more urgent than ever, prisons, jails, and detention centers have banned visits, making it harder for people behind bars to connect with their friends, family members, and lawyers.
While advocates across the country are doing critical work to secure the release of incarcerated people, we must ensure that families can be in touch during and after the pandemic. The biggest barrier to communication is the exorbitant call rates charged by prison phone corporations.
Prison phone rates are astronomical — a local 15-minute phone call can run as high as $25 in some facilities.1 Many families simply can’t afford these sky-high rates. For the 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent, this means forgoing phone calls that could help them maintain healthy relationships.
Former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Mignon Clyburn spent her career at the agency fighting to fix this injustice and even implemented a rule that would have capped the cost of prison phone calls to and from jails, prisons and detention centers. Trump’s FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, refused to defend an important part of the rule in court, abandoning incarcerated people and their families to the greed of the prison phone companies.2
But there’s hope. The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act will bring phone justice for millions of families.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Bobby Rush, both Democratic lawmakers from Illinois, have introduced companion legislation that would clarify that the FCC has the legal authority to stop the predatory behaviors of prison phone corporations, opening the door for millions of families to connect. Rep. Bobby Rush’s bill would immediately drive down rates to 4 to 5 cents per minute if passed.
The bills are both named in honor of Martha Wright-Reed, a champion in the fight for prison phone justice. For more than 20 years, Mrs. Wright-Reed fought for affordable prison phone rates as phone calls were the only way she could stay in touch with the grandson she raised and loved.3
In honor of the legacy of Martha Wright-Reed, we're calling on lawmakers to stand up for vulnerable communities and make prison phone calls more affordable for families trying to stay connected. An impressive bipartisan coalition, comprising Sens. Blackburn, Blumenthal, Booker, Casey, Gillibrand, King, Markey, Portman, Schatz, Udall, Warren and Wyden, has already signed on to co-sponsor Sen. Duckworth’s bill.
Tell your senators and representatives to support the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act in the Senate and the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act in the House. Your voice is crucial in the effort to pass both bills.
In partnership with:
1. “State of Phone Justice: Local Jails, State Prisons and Private Phone Providers,” Prison Policy Initiative, February 2019
2. “A Mega-Merger in the Prison-Phone Industry Is in the FCC’s Hands,” The Verge, Sept. 5, 2018
3. "Prison Phone Justice is a Gender Justice Issue: The Legacy of Mrs. Martha Wright-Reed," MediaJustice, March 8, 2019