In a Huge Victory for Inmates and Their Families, the FCC Caps Inmate Calling Rates

October 30, 2015

By Caitlin Steinke, Law Firm of Tina Foster

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed sweeping reforms on inmate calling rates and fees. This marked the first time that the FCC has used its mandate to establish uniform caps on the “excessive rates and egregious fees” imposed by inmate calling service (ICS) providers on people trying to staying connected with their loved ones. The FCC acknowledged that these rates and fees, which could cause an inmate call to run as high as $14/minute, were unconscionable, and only served to harm families.

The new rates apply to all local, in-state, and interstate calls from jails and prisons. The new FCC rules affecting prisons will come into effect in early 2016, while the rules affecting jails will come into effect in mid-2016. Below is a summary of the new rules.

Flat-rate calling

Flat-rate calling is prohibited. ICS providers used to be able to charge a flat rate for a phone call up to 15 minutes, regardless of the actual duration of the call. They are no longer allowed to charge flat rates.

New rates for debit and prepaid calls

The new rates for debit and prepaid calls are as follows:

State and federal prisons: 11 cents/minute

Jails with 1,000 or more inmates: 14 cents/minute

Jails with 350-999 inmates: 16 cents/minute

Jails with up to 349 inmates: 22 cents/minute

New rates for collect calls

Over the next two years, the rates for collect calls will be reduced to match the new rates for debit and prepaid calls. For the first year of this transition, rates for collect calls will remain slightly higher than the rates for debit and prepaid calls.

Ancillary service charges

The changes to ancillary service charges are as follows:

Automated payment by phone or website: capped at $3

Payment through a live agent: capped at $5.95

Paper bill fee: capped at $2

Third-party financial transaction fees (such as the fees charged by Western Union): may be passed through with no mark-up

All other ancillary service charges are prohibited.

Access for inmates with disabilities

ICS providers are now required to provide free access to telephone relay service (TRS) calls for inmates with communications disabilities. There will also be steeply discounted rates for calls made between TTYs (special devices that facilitate telephone communications between deaf or speech-impaired individuals).  

 

This article provides only general information, and is not intended as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney for guidance on specific legal matters.