WASHINGTON (CN) - The Federal Communications Commission plans to slash inmate calling rates that can make a phone call cost up to $14 per minute.
Saying it has a mandate to ensure that phone call rates are "just, reasonable and fair," the FCC is taking steps to rein in the "excessive rates and egregious fees" for folks trying to stay in touch with loved ones serving time in jail or prison.
"While contact between inmates and their loved ones has been shown to reduce the rate of recidivism, high inmate calling rates have made that contact unaffordable for many families, who often live in poverty," the FCC said.
An interim cap of 21 cents per minute on interstate debit and prepaid calls was set in 2013 in response to a petition by Martha Wright, a grandmother from Washington, D.C., for relief from the exorbitant rates she was paying to call her grandson in prison, the FCC said.
Cost data also began flowing from the inmate calling service providers in 2013, by FCC mandate. The data provided the basis for public comment on proposed reform, which continues with this action.
The change lowers the cap to 11 cents per minute for calls from state and federal prisons, and provides tiered rates for jails to account for the higher costs of serving jails and smaller institutions, according to the statement.
The caps cover the enhanced security requirements of inmate calling, and allow providers a reasonable return, the FCC said. They reduce the average rates for many inmate calls from $2.96 to no more than $1.65 for a 15-minute intrastate call for most calls, and from $3.15 to no more than $1.65 for most 15-minute interstate calls.
The FCC also capped or banned fees, which can add nearly 40 percent to the cost of a single call, according to the statement.
Commissioner Ajit Pai and Commissioner Michael O'Rielly opposed the new rule as exceeding the commission's legal authority.
Pai discussed another problem in prisons: cell phones being smuggled in to be used in phone scams or other crimes.
The new rates take effect 90 days after publication in the Federal Register in prisons, and 6 months after publication in the Federal Register in jails.
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