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Phone Calls Prove Prohibitively Expensive For Prisoners

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For many prisoners in the United States, making a phone call can be prohibitively expensive.
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For many prisoners in the United States, making a phone call can be prohibitively expensive.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton says there's a problem at U.S. prisons that is getting glossed over: the high cost of phone calls.

District resident Ulandis Forte knows the value of a phone call. Now a carpenter, he recounts how the phone was often his only link to the outside world during his 18 year prison stint.

"I needed to talk to my grandmother, so I could stay focused, so I could stay warm-hearted, so I wouldn't get lost," Forte says. "A lot of guys get lost in the prison system."

But prisoners often have to pay connecting fees before making what amounts to a collect call — sometimes costing up to $30 per call. Since the District doesn't have a federal prison, D.C. residents often are imprisoned far away, making family visits difficult or impossible.

Holmes Norton is urging the Federal Communications Commission to establish reasonable charges for calls from prison inmates to their families. She says it can help end the revolving door.

"The data doesn't show that there's much that you can do while the prisoner is incarcerated that will have an effect on recidivism," Holmes Norton says. "This is the one area, this family support and communication apparently makes a difference."

Holmes Norton says exclusive contracts between correctional facilities and telephone companies are the reason prices are so high, an issue she says the FCC can easily address.

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