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Phone Call Cost Relief For Indiana Inmates
Updated October 27, 2015 8:20 AM
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(UNDATED) - On Thursday the Federal Communications Commission adjusted the amount phone companies can charge inmates and their families to make calls.

Starting in 2016 rates will go from as high as a dollar a minute down to as low as 11 cents.

The FCC voted to cap the rates and fees and strongly discouraged the providers' practice of paying commissions to the prison facility in exchange for the phone service contract - fees critics refer to as kickbacks.

"There was no cap on how much they were charging, so they were charging people a dollar a minute," says Aleks Kajstura with the Prison Policy Initiative. "There were programs that charged $15 flat rate per call. you could talk just for two minutes and still be charged $15. There were all sorts of fees tacked on, on top of those phone rates. Costing $10 just to add to the accounts so you could make the call."

Previous rate caps only applied to interstate calls. The new rates apply to in-state calls, which account for most to the calls that are made.

Kajstura says phone calls are a lifeline especially for inmates in rural areas where the families may have to drive hundreds of mile to visit in person.

She added this change could save save prisoners' families hundreds of dollars a month for the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S.

Four phone service companies dominate the prison market. They have called this a business-ending event and are threatening to sue the FCC.

Jonathan Thompson, executive director of the National Sheriffs' Association, said the group is "very disappointed" and that "the record reflects that the costs sheriffs do have warrant a much higher rate."

"We believe also that inmates should have this capability to call, but unfortunately these new rates in all likelihood will mean that inmates will go without the ability to call and talk to their family members," he said. "How many, we don't know. But we know that many small facilities cannot afford to do this without cost recovery."

The changes don't ban profit-sharing commissions that have benefited jail and prison operators and in some cases made calls costlier, although the amount of money coming in will likely be lower.

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