October 30, 2023

Duckworth, FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel, Lieutenant Governor Stratton: We Must Help Keep Incarcerated Americans Connected with Their Families

The Senator, Chairwoman and Lieutenant Governor held a listening session with Illinoisians directly impacted by telecommunications justice in the criminal justice system


[CHICAGO, IL] – Friday, at the Women’s Justice Institute in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) hosted a community roundtable and listening session with Illinois women directly impacted by our nation’s criminal justice system and discussed how her bipartisan Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act helps working families keep in touch with incarcerated loved ones, secure phone justice and help reduce recidivism. Duckworth was joined by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who is prioritizing implementation of Senator Duckworth’s bipartisan law, and Illinois Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, a champion of restorative justice across the state. Photos of the event are available on the Senator’s website.

“For far too many years, families were forced to spend outrageous sums to speak by phone with a loved one living miles away in a correctional facility, preventing children from being able to hear the comfort of their parents’ voices, keeping spouses from being able to say a simple ‘I’m here for you’ to their partners,” said Duckworth. “Ending a predatory status quo that enabled prison telecom providers to gouge the families of incarcerated people was a moral imperative. That’s why it was so important to enshrine in federal law a clear and enforceable requirement that all prison communications rates, whether interstate or intrastate, must be just and reasonable. Today represents a critical part of this process, as I’m a big believer in the principle that the best public policy results from first, listening to the public one seeks to serve.”

During today’s discussion, former Chicagoan Ana Navarro shared her story of how the criminal justice system shaped her life and the essential role telecommunications played in keeping her connected to her loved ones. Navarro, a mother and criminal justice reform advocate, spent over a decade of her life incarcerated after she sought law enforcement assistance to escape an abusive relationship. Last month, a Cook County judge vacated Navarro’s conviction and dismissed all charges against her, and she was released last week thanks in part to direct assistance from Senator Duckworth’s office.

“Too many families of incarcerated people must pay outrageous rates to stay connected with their loved ones.  This harms the families and children of the incarcerated—and it harms all of us because regular contact with kin can reduce recidivism. The FCC has for years moved aggressively to address this terrible problem, but we had been limited in the extent to which we can address rates for calls made within a state’s borders.  Now thanks to the leadership of Senator Duckworth and a bipartisan coalition, the FCC is granted the authority to close this glaring, painful, and detrimental loophole in our phones rate rules for incarcerated people,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “Because ‘just and reasonable’ is not an abstract concept, but a legal term that the FCC has been using since the Communications Act of 1934.  What it means is that those rates are fair and not discriminatory.  The stories we heard from Ana, Marlene, Desiree, Sandra and the other women at the listening session demonstrate the cost of not being able to stay in touch with your loved ones or support system—who often had to make impossible choices to stay in touch.  No matter who you are or where you live in this country, whether you're incarcerated or not, you should be able to stay connected to your loved ones with fair access to calls.”

“Illinois is reimagining what justice looks like—not just for those in custody, but for their families and loved ones as well. Basic communication is a matter of equity, and transformative justice cannot be achieved without equity,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “This is a conversation that requires all of us, so I thank Senator Duckworth and the FCC for providing space for this important work.”

“Having access to affordable phone calls when a loved one is detained is important because we can give our family members a peace of mind to be calm and know we are there for them,” said Ana Navarro’s cousin, Marlene Delgado. “The high prices make that difficult because families need to make hard choices about what they can afford, and many people who do not speak English have trouble using the system at all. My family is glad to share our story because we know it is the story of many others."

The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act helps families stay connected with their incarcerated family members, which studies have shown can help reduce recidivism rates. The law is helping ensure consumers are charged just and reasonable rates for all inter- and intra-state calls, regardless of the technology used, as well as helping the FCC use its authority to address unjust and unreasonable prison calling rates. Duckworth’s bipartisan law is named after the late Martha Wright-Reed, who advocated for more affordable phone rates for more than 20 years. After Martha’s grandson became incarcerated and she discovered how expensive it was to keep in contact with him, she sued the Corrections Corporation of America for their exorbitantly high phone call rates. The FCC first announced it would cap interstate prison phone call rates in 2013 after years of hard work by Martha Wright-Reed and other advocates. Just this week, Duckworth received an award at the 41st Annual Everett C. Parker Lecture & Awards Ceremony for her work writing, pushing forward and passing the law.