Written by Emily Mullins
Policy advisor of the United Church of Christ's Office of Communication Inc., Cheryl Leanza, will participate in a day-long Federal Communications Commission (FCC) workshop Wednesday, July 10 to discuss the high cost of telephone services to prison inmates and the FCC's current rules on inmate calling services.
"There is a direct biblical injunction to care for the 'least of these' in our society," Leanza said. "This part of scripture instructs us that that our moral yardstick is our treatment of the poor, the hungry, the naked, the sick, and those in prison. We at the United Church of Christ are gratified that we can use our expertise in communications policy to so directly fulfill a core value of creating a socially just society here on earth."
The workshop will take place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Washington, D.C. Leanza is scheduled to participate in the first panel, "Consumers and Public Policy," from 9:30-11 a.m. The workshop will also stream live on the FCC's website.
OC Inc. has long been an advocate for reforming a system under which telephone companies that provide services to prison inmates are permitted to charge exorbitant rates to the families and friends of inmates. In some cases, companies compete for contracts with state prison systems by offering a portion of their revenues to the prison system itself. Prisoners can often not afford to make more than one short phone call per month, which strains inmate relationships with their children and families, and makes the reentry process even more difficult, Leanza said.
"Once you hear these stories and hear the facts, it becomes pretty difficult to understand why policymakers would let these rates continue for so long," Leanza said. "And we have done the research to show that members of the public react in distaste to this practice."
Under the leadership of interim FCC Chair Mignon Clyburn, the commission has been taking a closer look at the issue of prison phone rates. The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, president and general minister of the UCC, participated in a rally outside of the FCC last November to help raise awareness of this issue and pray for the organization to take action.
"These family members are trying to use their God-given voices, combined with the telephone, to give hope and strength to our family members, friends, loved-ones in prison who endure separation and isolation," Black said. "We extend our hands to help them while they are inside and to prepare them for a new life when they come out."
For more information on this issue, visit the OC Inc. website.