By Earl “Skip” Cooper, II, President/CEO, Black Business Association (BBA) 

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently capped the rate for jail and prison phone calls in an effort to ease the financial burden on the families of incarcerated Californians. While this is a well-intentioned move, these rate caps represent a huge drop in a very short period and threaten to defund correctional facilities at a time when they are dealing with rising COVID-19 cases, severe staffing shortages, and mixed support from lawmakers. 

The CPUC has failed to acknowledge that these calls are not being made with the types of phones we use outside of correctional facilities, but with secure systems designed for jails and prisons. These phones are equipped with advanced technologies that allow correctional officers to detect nefarious behavior, solve crimes that occur within the walls of the facility, and ultimately protect the lives of both the incarcerated and employees.  

The CPUC must work with a broader universe of stakeholders who have a deep  understanding of the complexities of correctional spaces. Current and past officers, budget directors, telecommunication companies, and officers’ unions must be part of a conversation to facilitate a strategy that best addresses the issues while also assuring the safety of the men and women who do this crucial job for our society. 

To successfully maintain state facilities operating safely, the CPUC has to either take a more gradual and sustainable approach to rate caps or immediately identify alternate streams of funding for facilities.