Bill will tackle shockingly high phone call rates in prisons that serve as a barrier between inmates and their families
March 22, 2022
WASHINGTON DC – Bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) to strengthen the country’s criminal justice system was passed today by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee (CST) of the United States Senate by voice vote and will now be considered by the full Senate. the Martha Wright-Reed Fair and Reasonable Communications Act, as amended, would help families stay in touch with incarcerated family members, which studies show can help reduce recidivism rates and thus save taxpayers money. The version of the bill favorably reported by CST was supported by the National Association of Sheriffs and one coalition of organizations. It would amend current law to clarify that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is authorized to regulate intrastate telephone rates and charges in correctional facilities to ensure they are just and reasonable, and change the definition of advanced communication services to ensure that the updated law is technologically neutral.
“Shockingly high phone call rates in prison create an often insurmountable barrier between inmates and their families,” said Portman. “While Ohio has done a good job of addressing this problem so far, this bill fills a void by helping to solve this problem nationwide, strengthening families and reducing poverty. recidivism. I am pleased that this important piece of legislation was passed favorably by the committee and I look forward to its passage by the full Senate.
“No family member should ever have to choose between staying in touch with an incarcerated loved one and paying the bills,” said Duckworth. “This is one of the reasons why I am happy that bipartisan legislation—named after the late Mrs. Martha Wright-Reed, a grandmother who was forced to make tough choices between extending a weekly lifeline to her incarcerated grandson and buying her much-needed heart medication—I presented with Senator Portman who walked out of the committee today unopposed. We must do all we can to ensure that telephone rates in correctional facilities are fair and reasonable so that family members can afford to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones, thereby improving the chances that rehabilitated offenders can become productive members of society after their Liberation.”
This bipartisan legislation is named after Martha Wright-Reed, who advocated for more affordable phone rates for more than 20 years. After Martha’s grandson was incarcerated and she found out how expensive it was to keep in touch with him, she sued the Corrections Corporation of American for their exorbitant phone call rates. The FCC first announced it would cap inter-prison phone rates in 2013 after years of hard work by Martha Wright-Reed and other advocates.
There is a bipartisan consensus that intrastate tariffs and fees in correctional facilities are unfair and unreasonable. FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel describe the rates that families of incarcerated people are forced to pay as “ineligible” and noted that the price of individual calls in correctional facilities “…can be as high as many of us pay for unlimited monthly plans” . Former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai also criticized the status quo when he led the FCC, noting that in-state providers “…apply extremely high in-state rates nationwide” and observe that incarcerated persons and their families are “…especially vulnerable to these exorbitant in-state rates”. Similar to current FCC Chairman Rosenworcel, former FCC Chairman Pai also testified to CST that he would welcome the statutory authority to regulate intrastate rates and fees in correctional facilities to ensure they are just and reasonable.
Organizations from across the political spectrum supported the amended version of the Martha Wright-Reed Fair and Reasonable Communications Act that CST reported favorably, including: National Association of Sheriffs, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Color of Change, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Free Press Action, International CURE, Japanese American Citizens League, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients, National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), New America’s Open Technology Institute Prison Policy Initiative, Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, Public Knowledge, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (TDI), United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry, Voqal, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (WLC) and Worth Rises.
More information on the Martha Wright-Reed Fair and Reasonable Communications Act is available here.