Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial
Prison pay phones are among the most important connections between inmates and the outside world. In many cases, their limited time on the phone is the only dependable lifeline to loved ones who may live too far away to visit on a regular basis. The ability of incarcerated men and women to stay in touch with those who most support them — spouses, parents, children — is an important part of maintaining their humanity while paying their debt to society. Regular contact between inmates and friends or family can make a difference in their conduct inside the prison walls and get them ready for life on the outside.
That's why the Federal Communications Commission's decision to curb the exorbitant rates that phone companies can charge for routine calls is in order. The new rate for local phone calls will be capped at $1.65 for a 15-minute call in-state. Before the FCC stepped in, inmates or those they called could expect to be charged as much as $14 a minute. By any standard, this was an outrageous financial burden for inmates and their families. It's also a price no regular consumer would stand for paying.
The companies that benefit most from the costly status quo, however, don't like the fact that the FCC is interceding. They characterize the federal agency's actions as an overreach and they vow to sue to reinstate the old arrangement, arguing that the cost of monitoring, taping and tracking prisoner phone calls necessitates the high costs.
But society's cost of isolating prisoners who can't afford to stay in touch with their chief means of support is even greater. In the United States, 2.7 million children have a parent in jail, each of whom will benefit from the FCC decision. While the parents are behind bars because they broke the law, onerous fees charged to moms and dads for calling their kids are criminal, too.