A group of lawmakers in the Congressional Black Caucus has achieved victory with a move by the Federal Communications Commission to cap the cost of prison phone calls.

The agency announced that it will limit the costs of intrastate calls to 21 cents per minute, a steep reduction from what the families of inmates currently pay.

According to the FCC, the cost of some calls can run as high as $17 for a 15-minute call.

The caucus has been pushing for the cap for years, and among the champions of the move is D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting member of Congress.

Norton, a Democrat, represents thousands of D.C. constituents with a jailed family member. The District has the highest incarceration rate in the country, with an estimated one in 50 people in jail, according to a July 2010 report from the Justice Policy Institute.

Many D.C. inmates are sent away to federal prisons around the country and are hundreds of miles away.
Norton said the CBC made “a special effort” to get the FCC to impose the cap, which it also may apply to calls within states.

Norton called the move “a tremendous victory” for the families who fought for the change, including a grandmother and her ex-inmate grandson who said telephone calls were essential to the rehabilitation of inmates.
According to the FCC, 2.7 million children will benefit from the change because they will be able to talk more with their incarcerated parent.

“Studies make clear that inmates who maintain contact with family and community while in prison have reduced rate of recidivism and are more likely to become productive citizens upon their release,” an FCC spokesman said. “Lower rates of recidivism also benefit society by reducing crime, the need for additional prisons, and other costs. “