PHONE FAIRNESS FOR THE INCARCERATED AND THEIR FAMILIES
FACT SHEET

1) When a mother or father or a child or other family member receives a phone call from one of their incarcerated relatives, they are charged a connection fee and an additional commission fee of 62 cents for every minute the family members converse during that phone call. A prisoner’s family can be burdened with more than $22 for a single 30-minute phone call.

2) The burden of a commission fee (which is nothing more than an additional tax) needs to be lifted from families already suffering because a family member has been incarcerated. Weightinginnocent family members with additional burdens to bear has nothing to do with administering justice or setting things aright in society. This current practice should be considered nothing more than an act of vengeance, an action that clearly punishes the innocent members of a family.

3) The 35 percent commission that is added to the rate for making a phone call is penalizing innocent family members accepting calls from their incarcerated relatives. The commission on phone calls goes to the general fund. This amount totals about $2.6 million that the General Assembly takes in from the commission. What must be kept in mind is that this is money obtained by penalizing innocent citizens  -- many that are already impoverished and vulnerable  -- of the state with a commission fee (an additional taxonmany that are least able to pay it).

4) Adding an additional financial burden (tax) on the families that are among the most impoverished and vulnerable in Virginia is simply unconscionable, a violation of the basic principles of justice and an impediment to the strengthening of families and communities – it is not family-friendly in any way whatsoever. Telephone calls are not a luxury; instead, they are a necessary lifeline for people who are incarcerated. Research documents that maintaining relationships with loved ones is a strong indicator of success for anyone returning to his or her community after serving time.

5) The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has taken a significant step by capping the rates on prison family interstate phone calls, but that only covers a fraction of all the families at state prisons and jails. Far cheaper rates for current intrastate prison family calls are possible. We urge Virginia legislators to take the next step, to do  the right thing, by capping phone rates on state prison and jail phone calls.

6) Legislation is needed to assure that not only the rates for debit or prepaid telephone systems at state correctional facilities and jails are at the lowest available rates but that the unfair 35 percent commission be completely eliminated. This is an opportunity to do justice, to set things right and stop punishing and burdening innocent family members of the incarcerated.