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End state's immoral grab for money from the poor.

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In January 2007, Congressman Bobby Rush introduced H.R. 555, The Family Telephone Connection Protection Act. The bill, if enacted, would empower the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to regulate interstate calls from prisoners in the following manner:

* Prescribe maximum rates

* Require both collect and debit calling

* Prohibit commissions

* Require competition

* Prohibit call blocking solely because there is no billing agreement in place between the prison phone company and the local phone company.

The bill is now in the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Members of that committee are listed by state below. You may want to contact your congressperson to let them know how you feel about this legislation.

The problem:

Greed. State typically enter into a contract with a phone carrier who provides the HIGHEST rate for the collect calls and who gives the biggest kick backs to the states.

This is not a fee paid by prisoners, this is paid by the families of prisoners who often are the poorest citizens because we typically don't lock up wealthier people.

This amounts to a round-a-bout tax levied only on the families of the millions of Americans behind bars. The ETC Campaign, has more details of this issue.

Every credible study has indicated that maintaining family ties reduces recidivism among felons. Contact between prisoners and their children has also shown to reduce the likelihood of those children entering a life of crime as well.

In light of what we know, why would a state knowingly and deliberately establish policies that are contrary to their official purpose, to protect the public? Many poor families cannot afford the sometimes huge phone bills and have to refuse calls from their loved ones. Some have to choose between letting their children speak to their mother or father in jail or food.

In an era of cheap 5 cent per minute long distance, the very notion that prisons should charge free citizens $17 or more for a 15 minute call is unethical. These states often respond, saying it costs them all this money to monitor and screen calls and control who prisoners can call. This is weak for several reasons. If cost were a concern why do they seek the carrier who will charge the most and give the largest kick back if the lowest cost provider will do the same screening for less money?

In my home state of Florida, state prisoners are paying millions of dollars to accept collect telephone calls from their loved ones incarcerated in Florida's prisons. The rates charged for such phone calls are excessively high, with in-state calls over 5 times as much, and out-of-state calls up to 20 times as much, as collect phone calls outside of the prisons. 

There are cheap ways to solve the problems of controlling calls. Some more ethical systems employ a debit card system and the prisoner pays for the calls. This system can be pre-programed with his family's numbers so he can't call just anyone. Cheap, powerful computers do the work..not people. It is not difficult to program a very sophisticated phone system that can take a prisoner's ID, look up on his list of allowed contacts, dial that number and connect to a family member, all without human intervention. These can plug directly into a regular phone line offering regular long distance rates. They can even be programmed to dial a special prefix to charge the call to the provider of choice chosen in advance by the recipient of that call or by the prisoner.

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