Danielle Mkali: Prison Phone Justice for Minnesotans
On Wednesday September 30, a delegation from Minnesota representing the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice—which included Main Street Project, The Community Justice Project and Take Action—met with Representative Keith Ellison to share the stories of how Minnesotan families are paying a high price to stay connected to their loved ones in prison. They requested that Representative Ellison speak out in support of the Wright Petition, a measure pending at the Federal Communications Commission, which would set reasonable rates for long distance phone calls from prisons, jails and detention center.
There was great consensus around the fact that while the profits to the state from prison phone calls may appear to be large, the costs to the people of Minnesota far outweigh them. The delegation shared with Ellison that state prisons receive a 49% commission on all phone calls made from a prison or roughly $1.5 million every year. This translates to inmates’ families paying $17 for a 15-minute phone call
With over 15,000 children in Minnesota with one or both parents incarcerated, it is unconscionable that the prison telephone industry would profiteer off of a parent's need to communicate with their son or daughter.
Margaret Higgins of the Community Justice Project explained that, “Not only do increased phone call rates affect the relationship between prisoners and their families, but they also create a budgetary hardship for the public defenders who represent incarcerated clients. Also, some public defenders’ offices require their attorneys to seek reimbursement through a time-consuming process, taking valuable time away from their heavy caseloads.”
On October 2, Congressman Ellison a longtime champion of justice for all people wrote a powerful letter addressed to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski urging him to pass the Wright Petition, which would regulate interstate prison phone call rates.
The Congressman wrote, “I respectfully urge the FCC to address the Wright Petition and cap interstate prison phone rates. Lower phone rates will benefit families that struggle to pay for the exorbitant phone calls and will also contribute to reducing inmates’ recidivism. Moreover, these prisons will still be able to cover the costs of monitoring and phone security by reducing these rates.”
The delegation is honored to work with Representative Ellison and is looking forward to continued work for prison phone justice in Minnesota and throughout the country.