March 08, 2018

Duckworth, Portman, Booker & Schatz Introduce Bipartisan Bill Aimed at Reducing Recidivism Rates in Criminal Justice System


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) today introduced the Inmate Calling Technical Corrections Act to strengthen the nation’s criminal justice system by helping families keep in touch with incarcerated family members, which studies have shown can help reduce recidivism rates and thereby save taxpayer dollars. This targeted legislation would address long-standing concerns regarding predatory inmate calling rates at prison facilities across the U.S. and would affirm the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) authority to address a market failure to protect family, clergy, and counsel who communicate with prisoners, inmates and detainees. This legislation also makes clear that the obligations of fairness in inmate communications apply to all individuals, including those living with a disability.

“The vast majority of prisoners will eventually be released, and it’s only common-sense that—once they’ve repaid their debt to society—we should do whatever we can to ensure they do not return to a life of crime and instead have a chance to succeed,” said Senator Duckworth. “Preserving contact with family members during incarceration can help make that a reality, but market failures unique to the prison telecommunications industry can make that more difficult. Fortunately, there is bipartisan agreement that the law should be clarified to enable the FCC to finally address those market failures. Our bipartisan legislation will help make sure that prison telecommunication rates are fair so family members can more easily afford to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones, improving the odds that rehabilitated offenders will be able to become productive members of society upon their release.”

Video visitation and phone call services in prisons are often unreasonably expensive and far lower quality than the telecommunications services used by the general public. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai affirmed his commitment to addressing these issues during his nomination hearing and welcomed Congress providing the FCC with the authority to establish rules for intrastate prison calls.

“This bill is designed to strengthen families and reduce recidivism. Outrageously high prison phone call rates create an often insurmountable barrier between those in prison and their families,” said Senator Portman. “While Ohio has done a good job of tackling this problem, this bill fills a void by helping to solve this problem nationwide. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this common-sense, bipartisan solution to the president’s desk for signature.”

“Incarcerated Americans rely on calling services to maintain support systems and bonds with their families — connections that have proven to reduce recidivism and prison violence,” said Senator Booker. “Yet our broken criminal justice system allows these calling services to charge exorbitant and prohibitively expensive rates that are as high as $400 to $500 per month. Our bipartisan bill would address this long-standing injustice by allowing the FCC to protect consumers against these unfair rates. Specifically, our bill makes it clear that ‘fairness’ under the Communications Act is about more than providing ample compensation to service providers. The goal of promoting competition among payphone providers shouldn’t come at the expense of subjecting incarcerated Americans to outrageous prices.”

“People in prison should not have to pay exorbitant fees just to talk on the phone with their kids, their clergy, or their counsel.” said Senator Schatz, the ranking member on the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet. “It’s bad for human rights, it’s bad for our justice system, and it’s bad for our taxpayers. With this bill, we’re giving the FCC the authority to fix the problem once and for all.”

The introduction of this legislation follows a federal court’s decision that the Communications Act authorizes FCC to regulate interstate prison calls, but does not clearly authorize the FCC to address intrastate prison telecommunications services. Without such policies in place, inmates and their families are forced to rely on a system that lacks adequate competition and often charges unreasonable rates. The Senators’ bipartisan Inmate Calling Technical Corrections Act would correct this issue by ensuring consumers are protected against unfair telecommunications rates. Specifically, this legislation:

· Ensures consumers receive just and reasonable charges for all intra- and interstate inmate calling, drawing on the existing standard in Section 202 of the Communications Act.

· Ensures just and reasonable rates apply regardless of technology used, like video visitation services and other advanced communications services. This also ensures that the needs of inmates with disabilities is addressed.

· Permits the FCC to use its traditional procedures and authority to address unjust and unreasonable inmate calling rates.

More information on the Inmate Calling Technical Corrections Act is available here.

Duckworth has long been outspoken about the need to reform our criminal justice system. Last year, Duckworth reintroduced the Video Visitation and Inmate Calling in Prisons Act of 2017 to help families keep in touch with incarcerated family members through video and telecommunication services, something studies have shown can help reduce recidivism rates and thereby save taxpayer dollars. Duckworth also introduced the Police Training and Independent Review Act to help prevent police-involved deaths and encourage independent and impartial investigations into law enforcement officials' use of deadly force.