Congress Must Protect Families With Incarcerated Loved Ones
The coronavirus pandemic is incredibly dangerous to incarcerated people, who have limited access to basic hygiene products, largely inadequate health-care services and no way to socially distance. While advocates across the country are doing critical work to secure the release of incarcerated people, we must ensure that families can get and stay connected during and after the pandemic.
The biggest barrier to communication remains the exorbitant call rates that prison-phone corporations charge. Prison-and-jail phone rates are astronomical — a local 15-minute phone call can run as high as $25 in some facilities.1 Many people struggled to afford these rates before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But with unprecedented jobless rates spurred by the economic crisis, these costs have become unworkable for families across the country. Incarcerated people, their loved ones and 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent are now suffering in isolation.
But there’s hope. The U.S. House of Representatives just passed the HEROES Act2, a $3-trillion COVID-19 relief package that included the COVID-19 Compassion and Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act. The provision originated from legislation previously introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (S. 1764, the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act) and Rep. Bobby Rush (H.R. 6389, the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act).
Named in honor of Martha Wright-Reed, the provision and the bills that inspired it would immediately drive down rates to no more than 4 to 5 cents per minute, end kickbacks to correctional administrators on telecom contracts and restore the Federal Communication Commission’s authority to regulate all prison and jail phone-call rates. The legislation carries forward Mrs. Wright-Reed’s decades-long fight for affordable prison-phone rates: Phone calls were the only way she could stay in touch with the grandson she raised and loved.3
Now, we must ensure that Congress adopts the bill as part of its stimulus response and codifies phone justice into federal law. In honor of Martha Wright Reed’s legacy, we’re calling on lawmakers to stand up for vulnerable communities and make prison-phone calls more affordable for families trying to stay connected.
Tell Congress to make sure the HEROES Act phone justice provisions pass as part of the next COVID-19 relief legislation and to co-sponsor S.1764 and H.R. 6389. Your voice is crucial.
In partnership with:
1. “State of Phone Justice: Local Jails, State Prisons and Private Phone Providers,” Prison Policy Initiative, February 2019
2. “House Passes the HEROES Act, Providing Billions in Emergency Funds for Expanded Broadband Connectivity,” Free Press Action, May 15, 2020
3. "Prison Phone Justice is a Gender Justice Issue: The Legacy of Mrs. Martha Wright-Reed," MediaJustice, March 8, 2019