Prison Phone Justice: Making the Connection for Families

cppjbannerjpeg_624_170We were a small group, but our mood was electric and connected to the mood of groups across the country witnessing the Federal Communications Commission’s vote to limit interstate prison phone rates. The vote was a long time coming, after a ten-plus year campaign to bring fairness to a structure that worked against the intentions of the criminal justice system and the well-being of families and children across the country.

We were at Main Street Project, gathered together to watch the live stream of the FCC meeting on Friday. Organizing Apprenticeship Project is a partner of the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net, a project of the Center for Media Justice), which along with Working Narratives and Prison Legal News, has been organizing theCampaign for Prison Phone Justice. Also with us was Line Break Media, advocates for media justice, and University of St. Thomas Law School Professor Artika Tyner, whose Community Justice Project Legal Clinic has given students a chance to be part of the campaign.

The glue for our small group was Steven Renderos, National Organizer for the Center for Media Justice. I first met Steven when I joined OAP two years ago and he gave me a crash course in media justice. As an OAP board member he helped our organization wade through the technical side of media, but also opened our eyes to the social justice issues resulting from who does and does not have access to media and communication. Now based in New York, we see him less, but his calls and emails keep us in the loop. His call last week was to come together around the anticipated FCC vote — and he would be in town to join us.

The prison phone rates issue has not made many front page headlines, but it is one worthy of our attention. In the U.S., 2.7 million children have at least one parent in prison. The majority  are children of color. According to The Sentencing Project, “[c]hildren of incarcerated parents are more likely to drop out of school, engage in delinquency, and subsequently be incarcerated themselves.” Keeping in touch with a parent is crucial for a child’s well-being and future. Maintaining family connections also helps support more positive re-entry and reduces recidivism.