The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) limited the amount inmates can be charged for making phone calls while incarcerated, terming the current rates charged by prisons and county jails “excessive” and “egregious.” The FCC argued such rates effectively promote recidivism by impeding communication between financially challenged inmates and their loved ones. As a result of the new limitations, the Santa Barbara County Jail could lose as much as $387,000 a year in telephone revenues. This money now goes into the Inmate Welfare Fund, which pays for many of the anti-recidivism programs now offered at the jail.
For the past five years, the County Jail has charged inmates between $4.50 and $5.00 for calls up to 15 minutes long. Of that, $3.50 is deemed a connection fee. On top of that, the jail has charged 10 cents a minute. Under the new system, no connection fees can be charged, and jails can charge up to 11 cents per minute. Sheriff Bill Brown said the ruling will be appealed and that if upheld would take six months to take effect. He speculated the reduction in fees could spark an increase in call volumes, thus offsetting some of the loss in revenue. But assuming call volumes remain the same, the FCC ruling will reduce phone revenues by 60 percent. Currently, a little less than half the $1.6 million Inmate Welfare Fund comes from phone calls. Brown said that loss would have to be made up from the general fund or by cutting services.