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FCC issues second further notice of proposed rulemaking on prison phone services

Prison Legal News, Oct. 23, 2014.

PRESS RELEASE

Human Rights Defense Center

For Immediate Release October 23, 2014 – For Immediate Release

 

FCC Issues Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Reform of Prison Phone Services

Washington, DC – Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission issued a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in a long-standing proceeding to reduce the cost of phone calls made from prisons, jails and other detention facilities.

Historically, the cost of prison phone calls has been extremely high – more than $1.00 per minute in some cases. This is due to the commission-based model of most prison phone contracts, which involves correctional agencies receiving "commissions" consisting of a percentage of the revenue generated from institutional phone calls. Such commissions average 48% and can be as high as 96%. The cost of the calls is usually paid by prisoners’ family members.

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), a non-profit organization and co-founder and leader of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, has been working on reform of the prison phone industry since 1992. The Campaign has been instrumental in providing comprehensive data and analysis to the FCC related to prison phone rates and commissions, including data published in Prison Legal News, HRDC’s monthly publication, most recently in December 2013.

The FCC voted in August 2013 to cap the cost of interstate (long distance) prison and jail phone calls at $.25/minute for collect calls and $.21/minute for debit and prepaid calls. However, that order, which went into effect on February 11, 2014, did not extend to intrastate (in-state) calls – which comprise an estimated 85% of calls from prisons and jails. Currently, in-state phone rates at local jails are as high as $17.30 for a 15-minute call.

As noted by the FCC, "Evidence indicates that as interstate rates have declined, there has been a corresponding increase in call volumes," and "the reforms have already had a significant impact on contact between inmates and their families." The FCC is now seeking further comment on reforming all aspects of prison phone services, including intrastate rates and site commissions. Limitations on certain ancillary fees are also being considered by the agency.

"HRDC commends Chairman Wheeler for his steadfast commitment to further the historic action taken by Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel in 2013," said HRDC executive director Paul Wright. "We encourage prisoners, their families, and all other interested parties to take action by contacting the FCC so their comments regarding this important issue can be heard. Prison phone service providers and detention facilities have profited far too long by gouging prisoners’ families and it’s long past time to permanently stop this practice," Wright stated.

"We welcome the FCC’s interest in further reforming the prison phone industry, which has long operated with little regulation in an effective monopoly marketplace," added HRDC associate director Alex Friedmann. "As a result, prisoners’ family members, who pay for the vast majority

of calls made from prisons and jails, have had to pay inflated, exorbitant phone rates to stay in contact with their incarcerated loved ones. We will be filing formal comments with the FCC in response to the FNPRM, arguing for low rate caps and an end to commission payments and ancillary fees," he said.

The Human Rights Defense Center is one of only a few national organizations working to reform the prison phone industry and reduce prison and jail phone rates. Other national groups working on this issue include the Prison Policy Initiative, CURE and Working Narratives.

"We are currently seeking donations to support the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice," Wright stated. "The fight to reform prison phone rates at the FCC has been pending for over a decade, and the new further notice of proposed rulemaking is another opportunity to obtain much-needed and long-overdue justice for prisoners’ families."

The FCC’s rulemaking notice was issued in WC Docket No. 12-375, also known as the Wright petition after Martha Wright – a grandmother in Washington, D.C. who was one of the original petitioners in the FCC proceeding, filed in 2003. Mrs. Wright was initially represented by attorneys Deborah Golden and Phil Fornaci, and is currently represented by Lee Petro with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.

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The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Lake Worth, Florida, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has around 9,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.

 

For further information, please contact:

Paul Wright, Executive Director

Human Rights Defense Center

(561) 360-2523

pwright@prisonlegalnews.org

 

Alex Friedmann, Associate Director

Human Rights Defense Center

(615) 495-6568

afriedmann@prisonlegalnews.org

 


 


 

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