Congressman Bobby Rush

Representing the 1st District of Illinois

Rep. Rush & Senator Booker Introduce Concurrent Resolution to Address Exorbitant Prison Phone Rates

Dec 8, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), joined by U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), introduced a Concurrent Resolution to address exorbitant prison phone rates between the imprisoned and their loved ones. Since the 109th Congress, Rep. Rush, a senior member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, has introduced federal legislation and advocated nationally for dramatically reducing exorbitant rates that are charged for phone calls between inmates and their families.

In 2005, Rep. Rush first introduced the Family Telephone Connection Protection Act to require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate exorbitant, interstate calling rates for prison phone calls between parents, spouses and families with children. Rep. Rush has reintroduced this legislation in every subsequent Congress to put an end to the kickbacks — also known as site commissions — received by prisons based on incoming and outgoing calls between inmates and their loved ones. A diverse coalition of both liberal and conservative groups has also called for regulatory action to resolve this matter. The exorbitant and costly fees that American families incur to phone incarcerated loved ones are financially draining. According to Prison Legal News, more than two million Americans are housed within prison walls.

“For last decade, I have sought to end the ‘family divide,’ a term analogous to the ‘digital divide’ that exists with regard to unequal access to communication services between incarcerated members of our society and their loved ones,” said Rep. Rush. “I firmly believe that communication, along with the ability to express love toward family, is a fundamental need, and one’s humanity does not perish when they enter the prison system.”

Senator Booker, a long time champion for prison reforms understands the dire need for solutions to decreasing prison populations. The U.S. makes up about five percent of the world’s population, but comprises nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population. In an effort to steer U.S. prison systems toward rehabilitation, Senator Booker introduced the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment (REDEEM) Act to reduce recidivism among both children and adults in U.S. prison systems.

Senator Booker said, “Implementing fair and reasonable prison phone rates is the right thing to do and plain common sense. This resolution supports recent efforts by the FCC to protect those serving their time and their families from exorbitant and unfounded calling fees imposed on some of America’s most financially fragile households. These excessive fees are not only baseless attempts to profit off of vulnerable families, they undermine the financial security of those trying to stay in touch with a partner, parent, or child behind bars. In addition, excessive fees on inmate calls can pose a substantial barrier to successful reentry once individuals have paid their debt to society. That debt should not include paying excessive fees per minute to speak with your child.”

Although this is an issue that affects families from all backgrounds (over 2.7 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison), more than 60 percent of incarcerated prisoners are African- or Latino-American. In addition, many prison offenders come from economically vulnerable communities where unreasonable prison phone rates severely harm and exploit prison populations.
Research proves that there is a significant decline in recidivism rates for inmates who communicate with family members while incarcerated compared to those who do not. Expensive phone call rates deter such communication and result in costly re-incarceration. Scores of states receive hundreds of millions of dollars in commissions from companies to land exclusive contracts to provide prison phone services without facing competition from other lower-cost providers; a possible reason for why prison phone call rates have skyrocketed. Bloomberg reports the lucrative market for prison phone services, which totals approximately $1.2 billion dollars in annual revenues, is currently dominated by two companies, Global Tel Link and Securus Technologies.

Ensuring that prison phone rates are adjusted to reasonable levels will not only increase affordability of service for families, but will also help keep families intact as much as possible while reducing recidivism.