2/03/2011

eTc Campaign


Advocate for Change We hope you will use the information on this website to ask policy makers for changes in the prison phone system.  Many of the positive changes we have seen were the result of just one or two policy makers who became concerned. The following FAQs will help you prepare to contact individuals.
1. How do I get started?

Be certain you understand the situation.

  • Visit the Rates by State page to see how the rates you are paying and the calling options you have compare to other states in the region and across the country.
  • Visit the National Perspective page to see how the system you are forced to use compares with others.
  • Visit the Developments Since 2000 page to see what has happened in your state and what editorialists have said, if anything.
2. Who should I contact?

Prison phone policies are determined at the state level.  So, we recommend that you contact state officials. 
Those include the following:

  • Public Service Commission or agency that regulates utilities
  • Attorney General or Agency that oversees consumer protection
  • Commissioner or Director of the Department of Corrections
  • Phone Company that provides the service
  • Better Business Bureau for the region that headquarters the phone company
  • Your state representative
  • Your state senator
3. What if I accept calls from another state?  Who do I write to in that case? Write to the officials in the state from which you receive calls.  In the case of legislators, write to the chairpersons of the house and senate committees that oversee corrections.  (Those can be located on the state's legislative website.)
4. What points should I raise?

We have heard a number of complaints from individuals who receive calls from individuals who are incarcerated.  Depending upon your experiences, you may want to raise some of the following issues:

  • I have been charged for calls I was not home to receive.
  • I have had calls prematurely terminated.
  • I have had my phone number blocked, apparently because the phone company with whom the prison system has contracted does not have a billing agreement with my local phone company.
  • I am charged exorbitant rates, in part because the phone company that operates the inmate phone service offers (and the state agrees to accept) an unreasonably high commission.
  • I am not allowed less expensive calling options. There is no technical reason why I should not be able to receive prepaid and/or debit calls that avoid operator assistance and can be billed profitably at considerably lower rates.
  • I am forced to pay in advance for collect phone calls, and never receive an accounting of dates, times, and length of calls charged against that prepayment.
  • The phone company charges me to process my payment.

5. What else should I include in the letter?

Be certain to include your name and address.  You may want to include your phone number as well.
Explain how long you have been receiving calls from the prison.  You may want to include a copy of your phone bill or the total amount you spend in a typical month.
6. How do I find the addresses of the individuals to whom I should write? 
Look up the phone company for the prison system on the Rates by State page. Click here for the chart that provides the address for each phone company and the associated Better Business Bureau. Click here for the address of the regulatory agency, the consumer protection advocate and the department of corrections.  See your state legislature's website for the address of your state senator and state representative.
7.How do I respond to false claims by the phone company or the department of corrections?
Many of those who defend abusive prison telephone systems offer misleading information for justification. Policy should be based on truth, not fiction.  Here is the truth:

  • Neither the state utility regulators (in most cases) nor the Federal Communications Commission sets rates for prison phone calls.  Since deregulation, phone companies are required to file rates, but those rates are not regulated or monitored.  (Check the Litigation Section of the "Progress Since 2000" page to see if the utility commission in your state has taken any action.)

  • The security features required for prison phone calls (e.g. branding, time limitations, monitoring, number restrictions, and bans on 3rd party calls) can be applied to debit calls as well as collect calls - at no additional cost.  (Because debit calls are prepaid and require no operator assistance, debit calls are charged at rates that are considerably cheaper than collect rates.) 

  • Debit calling would not require additional expensive hardware or software.

  • Representatives of phone companies have told us that debit calling would NOT substantially reduce the revenue received by the prison system.  If calls were less expensive, individuals would simply call more often.

  • It is not necessary to wait until the expiration of the contract to initiate changes.  Prison systems have negotiated changes in existing contracts.

  • While it is true that prisoner calls generally do not cost more than a collect call in the free world, it is important to understand that prisoners in many states are only allowed to make expensive collect calls.  Individuals in the free world can avoid such charges by making direct calls or using credit cards, debit cards, toll-free numbers, etc.

  • It is NOT true that taxpayers would have to subsidize the cost of the prison phone system if rates were reduced.  Commissions currently paid to the prison systems more than cover any costs associated with the phones.  If debit calling were implemented, rates could be reduced even more and still cover all costs.

  • It is true that the families and friends of prisoner are often poor, and can ill afford unreasonably high phone charges.

  • It is true that prisons are often built far from population centers, making visiting expensive and difficult.  Phone contact is the most practical means of staying in touch.

  • To the extent that telephone commissions are used for the benefit of prisoners, all taxpayers benefit as well.  It is not fair to "tax" only the families and friends of prisoners to pay for programs that will rehabilitate, produce more secure prisons, and enhance public safety.

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