Stop Prison-Phone Companies from Exploiting Incarcerated People and Their Families
Former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has described prison phone companies’ exploitation of incarcerated people and their families as “the greatest, most distressing type of injustice I have ever seen in the communications sector.”1
Prison phone rates are astronomical, with the price of a local 15-minute phone call costing up to $25 in some states.2 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.
Commissioner Clyburn spent her career at the FCC 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.3
But there’s hope. Sen. Tammy Duckworth has just introduced a bill called the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2019. This bill would clarify that the FCC has the legal authority to stop prison phone companies’ predatory behavior, opening the door for millions of families to connect.
The bill is 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. Phone calls were the only way she could stay in touch with the grandson she raised and loved: As a blind elderly woman, she could neither write letters nor travel long distances for in-person visits.4 She became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that led to the FCC phone justice rules that Commissioner Clyburn implemented.
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. Senators Booker, King, Markey, Portman and Schatz have all signed on to co-sponsor Senator Duckworth's bill, but we'll need to get the majority vote in order to pass it. Tell your senators to support the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2019.
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1. “Americans Don’t Care About Prison-Phone Exploitation, Says FCC Official,” Motherboard, Aug. 5, 2016: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/53d54q/fcc-official-most-americans-dont-care-about-prison-phone-exploitation
2. “State of Phone Justice: Local jails, state prisons and private phone providers,” Prison Policy Initiative, February 2019: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/phones/state_of_phone_justice.html
3. “A Mega-Merger in the Prison-Phone Industry Is in the FCC’s Hands,” The Verge, Sept. 5, 2018: https://www.theverge.com/2018/9/5/17818496/fcc-prison-phone-industry-securus-merger
4. "Prison Phone Justice is a Gender Justice Issue: The Legacy of Mrs. Martha Wright-Reed," MediaJustice, March 8, 2019: https://centerformediajustice.org/2019/03/08/prison-phone-justice-is-a-gender-justice-issue-the-legacy-of-mrs-martha-wright-reed/