December 22, 2022 — Press Release

The legislation supporting prison reform will help families stay connected while saving them millions of dollars

WASHINGTON — Today, the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 was passed by the House of Representatives and is headed to the President’s desk. This historic victory comes a decade after Color Of Change, its members and partners pressured Securus, the largest prison telecom company, to publicly support the prison phone justice legislation after decades of opposing it. 

The legislation gives the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the authority to establish maximum service rates in prisons for communication providers. This will allow incarcerated individuals to stay in contact with their families and loved ones, without paying exorbitant fees and is a step toward ending carceral profiteering, once and for all. Color Of Change, Worth Rises, United Church of Christ’s Media Justice Ministry, Free Press Action, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Consumer Law Center, Public Knowledge, International CURE and Benton Institute for Broadband and Society applaud lawmakers for enshrining these protections for incarcerated individuals. For years, these groups have publicly pressured, called on and spoke with telecom companies, lawmakers and other key players who have had a hand in profiting from incarceration by overcharging communication services. Advocates demanded lawmakers pass the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act to end these harmful practices.

“It is vital that we end carceral profiteering once and for all. Prison-telecommunications services profit from vulnerable families trying to stay in touch with their loved ones, generating $1.4 billion annually,” said Sakira Cook, Vice President of Policy & Government at Color Of Change. “Today, after over a decade of advocacy, lawmakers made an important stride in addressing profiteering in our prison system. We applaud and thank Representative Bobby Rush and Senator Tammy Duckworth for their leadership on this issue, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Leader Chuck Schumer for prioritizing and passing this legislation in the House and in the Senate. The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 will protect people from predatory phone companies and save millions of dollars for families of incarcerated individuals, especially for Black people and communities of color.

“The predatory correctional telecom industry has avoided regulation for too long, and families have paid the exorbitant price,” said Worth Rises Executive Director Bianca Tylek. “Today, we commend Congress for finally correcting this injustice by passing the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 and ensuring that the FCC has the authority to regulate call rates charged across our nation’s prisons and jails. This legislation will bring extraordinary relief to families with incarcerated loved ones – parents and children especially – who need to stay connected. Those connections are important to the strength of families, well-being of people inside, and their mutual success upon reentry. Their success benefits us all.”

“The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 is essential to preparing for jobs and housing when a person is released,” commended Charles Sullivan, President of International CURE.

“The predatory behavior of companies serving incarcerated people and their families is notorious. Families, pastors, attorneys and others are forced to pay unconscionable rates in order to keep in touch with loved ones, offer counseling and connection or vindicate legal rights,” said Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor of the United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry. “But today, the forces of good pushed back! We are celebrating passage of the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 and the steadfast commitment of our Congressional champions who pressed ahead against terrible odds. The gift of connection and recognition to people who are often forgotten and left behind is immeasurable and particularly meaningful during the holiday season. The United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry expresses our deep gratitude to Senator Duckworth, Representative Rush. Senate and House leadership and the often unsung staff who would not give up on the people counting on them. And we credit the National Sheriffs Association for coming to the table and standing by the legislative compromise it made. We look forward to working with the Federal Communications Commission to implement this new law.”

“For too long, families have been forced to pay inflated, unaffordable rates to stay connected with their incarcerated loved ones,” said Ariel Nelson, Staff Attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “We applaud Congress for passing the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022, which will help end this predatory practice and ensure that families no longer have to choose between putting food on the table or speaking with a loved one.”

“Enactment of the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 helps everyone, not just the incarcerated and their families,” stressed Andrew Jay Schwartzman, Staff Counsel to the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society on the broader impact of the new legislation. “Our entire society benefits when families can stay together; reducing recidivism reduces taxes for all of us and also makes the job of law enforcement easier and cheaper.”

“Incarcerated people and their loved ones have paid the price, literally, for the predatory behavior by the correctional telecom industry for far too long,” said Heather Franklin, Internet Campaign Director at Free Press Action. “The ability for incarcerated people to maintain regular communication with their loved ones, counsel and clergy is a human rights issue. We’re grateful to champions on the Hill for pushing the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 over the finish line in the final days before Congress’ holiday break and look forward to working with the FCC to ensure that the costs of all calls are just and reasonable.”

“At last, incarcerated people will be able to make phone calls to stay in touch with family and other loved ones with some regulatory supervision on both interstate and local rates,” said Al Kramer, Senior Fellow at Public Knowledge. “Moreover, there will now have to be services accessible by incarcerated people who are hearing impaired or have other disabilities. We thank Senator Duckworth and Representative Rush for their tireless work in shepherding this important legislation through the legislative process.”

“We applaud Congress for taking the long overdue step to eliminate predatory prison phone rates. It’s unacceptable for anyone to have to choose between necessities like rent or health care and connecting with their loved ones. The passage of the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Bill will correct this injustice and be life-changing for incarcerated individuals and their families,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

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