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Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Rush’s Prison Phone Justice Act; Rush Pushes for Lower Prison Phone Rates

October 6, 2021

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) participated in a legislative hearing on his Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act (H.R. 2489)in the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. The bill would ban the commissions that prisons and other confinement facilities receive from communications providers, which are the primary cause of exorbitant prison phone rates. It would also cap intrastate and interstate phone services at four cents per minute for debit prepaid calling and five cents per minute for collect calling.

American households collectively pay $1 billion to call family members in prison every year, and more than a third of families go into debt to pay for phone calls and visits to incarcerated loved ones. Rep. Rush has longfought to lower prison phone rates and reintroduced his Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act in April. Today’s subcommittee hearing is the first step in advancing the bill to the House floor under regular order.

“Several studies, going as far back as the 1970s, have shown that prisoners who are able to maintain close contact with loved ones experience better post-release outcomes and have lower recidivism rates,” said Rush in his questioning of witness Cheryl Leanza, a policy advisor at the United Church of Christ Office of Communications. “This is an important aspect of rehabilitation not only for those that are incarcerated and their loved ones, but also for the communities where they reside. Can you discuss how the current prison phone model discourages this extremely close contact relationship?”

“Yes. There is no more effective — and more cost-effective way — to improve outcomes than to give people who are incarcerated close ties to the community outside, so that when they are finished with their term, they can find a job, find a place to live, their family relationships with their children [and] spouses will continue to be strong and vibrant, and they will be able to reenter society fully and successfully,” said Ms. Leanza. “So, it is a part of safe communities to allow people to successfully reintegrate into society if they can keep those communications vibrant while they are inside.”

A full transcript of Rush’s remarks at the hearing is available HERE.

Rush's legislation is named for Martha Wright-Reed, a Washington, D.C. resident who filed a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2000, charging that exorbitant prison phone charges forced her to choose between paying for her medication and communicating with her incarcerated grandson. She continued her fight for phone justice until her death in 2015.

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Issues:Civil Rights