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FCC says it's okay for prisoners to pay more than anyone else for phone calls

The Federal Communications Commission is hoping to strike a compromise by making it affordable for inmates to call their loved ones while still allowing prison phone giants to turn a profit.
Internos llaman por teléfonos de cobro en una prisión de Phoenix. Enero 31 de 2008. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

For decades, prison phone companies have been getting really, really rich from charging inmates exorbitant amounts to call their loved ones – and are fighting to keep it that way.

Last year, after a long battle waged by prison advocates, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finally agreed to cap call rates at 11 cents a minute in prisons (and 14 cents to 22 cents for jails). In the past, some inmates were forced to swallow fees that were as steep as $14 per minute.


But prison phone giants, like Securus Technologies and Global Tel*Link, were determined to hold onto their bread and butter and sued the FCC, alleging that their plan to slash phone rates was overreaching and would inflict "irreparable, immediate harm" upon their businesses.

Related: A plan to slash the exorbitant cost of phone calls for US prisoners got put on hold

In March, a federal court of appeals agreed to put the FCC's plan on hold.

Now, apparently looking to strike a compromise, the FCC last week proposed new cap rates, of 13 cents per minute at state and federal prisons – where they say about 71 percent of inmates reside. Inmates at local jails could be charged higher rates up to 31 cents for one minute, depending on the facility's size.

Related: FCC aims to correct 'Egregious' prison phone costs by putting caps on prices

Phone companies have justified the high rates by saying they cover additional fees charged by prison companies. The FCC insists that their proposed rate caps will allow phone companies to recover those costs while still turning a profit.

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen