On the day before the Federal Communications Commission voted to limit predatory phone rates charged to families of inmates, civil rights and religious groups hosted a press call to encourage the FCC to vote in favor of reform. NAE Vice President Galen Carey participated in the press call, and his statement is below.
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) represents 40 denominations with more than 45,000 congregations, many of which are involved in serving prisoners and their families. A recent NAE survey found that 95 percent of our evangelical leaders have visited a prison, and many have overseen ongoing prison ministries.
In the biblical creation account the family is the first human institution, given by God to bless all humanity. The family precedes both religion and government. It is in the family that children first learn right from wrong, and are nurtured by their mothers and fathers into responsible citizenship. When families break down, the whole community suffers. Crime and violence are, at least in part, the tragic consequences of failed families.
Families — both biological and spiritual — are also a critical element in the rehabilitation and restoration of their loved ones behind bars. Relatives and church members are often the only visitors that a prisoner receives. When distance prevents personal visits, family members are the ones who accept and pay for the collect phone calls and lend a listening ear. Research and long experience show that inmates who maintain regular connection with their family throughout their incarceration have a much higher chance of successful reintegration into society upon their release.
If prison wardens were evaluated and paid based on the success of their alumni after release, they would be the first to work for lower phone rates. In fact, they would provide free phone calls and would require their inmates to call and write home regularly. They would embrace family members as essential partners in rehabilitation.
Alas, prison administrators now face the perverse incentive of legalized kickbacks that actually reward their budgets when they raise phone rates to extortionate levels. In an ideal world, prison phone service would be subject to the same competitive market forces that have driven phone rates for most Americans down to historic lows. Failing that, the Federal Communications Commission should at least cap interstate phone rates at a reasonable level, to prevent abuse of a captive audience and their families. Doing so is not only within the statutory authority of the FCC. It is a responsibility of good governance.
The National Association of Evangelicals is pleased to join our colleagues in calling on the FCC to end predatory phone rates immediately. Our prayers are with Chairwoman Clyburn and the other Commissioners as they meet tomorrow.