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Fighting for Fair Phone Rates

Fighting For Fair Phone Rates

by Deborah M. Golden

In 2000, a group of prisoners, loved ones of prisoners, and attorneys filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the high cost of collect calls from private correctional facilities. The case is Wright, v. Corrections Corporation of America, USDC DC case no. 1:00CV00293 (GK), in front of Judge Kessler. This group is represented by attorneys at Seliger & Elkin, in Chicago; D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project, in Washington, DC; and the Center for Constitutional Rights, in New York. The lawsuit claims, among other things, that the high costs of the phone calls violate anti-trust laws, the Eighth Amendment, and the Federal Communications Act.

We asked the court to make the case a class action, but the judge did not rule on that motion. Instead, in August 2001, the judge ordered us to go to the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") because the case involves issues under its jurisdiction. However, the judge did not dismiss the case, but nothing will happen until FCC rules.

In front of the FCC, the process is being divided into two parts. The first part is a Petition for Rulemaking, in which we challenge both the FCC's allowing prisons to have only one long distance carrier and phone companies' practice of offering only collect calling rather than also allowing prisoners to use debit cards. This Petition was filed in November 2003. It asks that the FCC allow multiple long distance carriers at private prisons, prohibit the paying of commissions from phone calls to the prisons, and to require service providers to offer debit cards or debit accounts. Opponents of our Petition, including major companies such as MCI and AT&T, have filed comments. So have supporters. By the time this article goes to press, Plaintiffs will have responded to all of the comments. Then we will have to wait for the FCC to rule.

The second part in front of the FCC is a Formal Complaint saying that people have paid unreasonable rates for long distance calls from prisoners. This part has not been filed yet. As part of our preparation for this complaint, we are looking for additional plaintiffs. We are especially interested in plaintiffs paying bills as a result of someone being housed in a facility operated by the Corrections Corporation of America and serviced by Evercom. If you or your loved one fits into this category, as soon as possible, please contact: Deborah M. Golden, D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project, 2639 Connecticut Ave., NE #225, Washington, DC 20008.

Send a letter detailing as much as you remember about your bills, with copies of the bills if possible. Please do not try to file your own lawsuit. We do not know how long the FCC will take to rule, but it will be cleaner if there are no adverse court decision in the meantime.

Deborah M. Golden is a staff attorney for the D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project

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Related legal case

Wright v. Corrections Corporation of America