Phone calls from prisons and jails in the US are incredibly costly for incarcerated individuals and their families, with one 2018 survey finding that a 15-minute call for inmates could cost as much as $25. Since inmates can only access the single private phone company serving their facility, they often have no other options if they want to stay in touch with loved ones, a situation exacerbated by the pandemic.

Brattle Principal Dr. Coleman Bazelon and Senior Consultant Dr. Paroma Sanyal have coauthored a Competition Policy International article on the market structure ­– and market failures ­– of inmate calling services, which are significantly more expensive than comparable calls outside of correctional facilities. The article, “Captive Audiences: A Case Study of Phone Rates for Incarcerated Persons,” appears in the April 2021 issue of the CPI Antitrust Chronicle.

The article explores the current landscape of inmate calling services and the technical, practical, and regulatory barriers to fixing the unconscionably high calling rates. Since improving communication between incarcerated people and their families can help reduce recidivism and improve inmate mental health, FCC action to lowering the cost of inmate calling services could help one of society’s most vulnerable populations.

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