It hasn't been easy and it hasn't been quick, but for the friends and families of those behind bars, "change has finally come," says the FCC's acting chairwoman.
Every year, 700,000 people walk through the doors of a correctional facility, back into a society that they left months or years ago. Who is waiting for them on the other side? When was the last time they spoke?
Fans of the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black know how important the prison's bank of phones is to the inmates. But what the show doesn't capture are the exorbitant costs that prisoners and their families must bear to maintain their connections -- much, much greater than what an average phone call costs. New rules approved by the FCC on Friday aim to bring down those rates.
The decision marks the end of a decade-long effort to get the FCC to regulate such calls, the costs of which are many times what an average citizen pays, though they vary greatly by state. In extreme cases, the FCC says, families and lawyers have paid more than $17 for a 15-minute phone call. There is no market in which competition could draw down rates -- prisoners are literally a captive market, with no choice but to use the phones the prison provides. Many states collect a commission on the calls, effectively adding a tax to the inmates' calls through which the inmates pay for the costs of their own incarceration.