On Friday February 1st, 60 people attended a public hearing on prison telephone rates in New York City co-hosted by Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice. Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was a special guest speaker and marked the first time an FCC Commissioner was present at a public hearing regarding the high cost of prison telephone calls. Over 10 people testified, ranging from impacted families, ministers, advocates and civil rights leaders.
The hearing was held as part of the Wall Street Project and Economic Summit, an annual conference by Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Members of the New York chapter of the Media Action Grassroots Network attended and Ravi Ragbir of the New Sanctuary Coalition delivered a statement on behalf of MAG-Net. Here is an excerpt from his statement:
“Members of MAG-Net understand the devastating impact on our communities when our families are unable to stay connected to their loved ones in prison. Our prisoners become isolated, our family and community ties are broken and the chances that they will recommit a crime once they’re released increase dramatically.
That is why we are asking the FCC to use its authority and set benchmark rates for what prison telephone companies are allowed to charge. Increasing communication between families and prisoners will help reduce recidivism, keep our families strong and our communities safe. The time to act is now.”
Some testimony came from Alix Nguefack of New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, who work primarily with immigrants in Essex County and she shared research that found that Global Tel Link was making “over $1.5 million in profit”.
In addition many immigrants in New Jersey are transferred to detention facilities in orther states. This makes the precious moments between their detention and possible deportation all the more critical, but the cost of the phone calls is making a real difference between some detainees receiving the legal and familial support that they need or be permanently separated from their families.
After the testimonies concluded, Reverend Jesse Jackson of Rainbow PUSH Coalition, closed out the event by calling on groups from diverse sectors come together to address these phone call rates at the national and local level.
The FCC is currently soliciting comments from the public on what action they should take if any. The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice has set up a “Take Action” page for people interested in supporting our efforts. For more information visit www.phonejustice.org.