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FCC Finally Moves on Wright Petition After Almost a Decade of Inaction

On December 28, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a major step in a process that could lead to “just and reasonable” interstate phone rates for calls made from prisons, jails and other detention centers.

“Today, we officially answer the call from tens of thousands of consumers who have written, emailed and, yes, phoned the Commission, pleading for relief on interstate long distance rates from correctional facilities,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a supporter of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice.

Nearly ten years after the “Wright Petition” landed at the FCC – named after petitioner Martha Wright, who had accepted phone calls from her incarcerated grandson – the Commission issued a “Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (NPRM), that was published in the Federal Register on January 22, 2013. This opens up a sixty-day period, until March 25, 2013, to submit public comments on the NPRM to make the cost of prison phone calls more affordable to consumers.

Before the FCC Commissioners decide whether and how to lower prison phone rates, they want to hear more about the experiences of prisoners and their families with the prison telephone system, and ideas for changing it.

In the past six months more than 700 letters have arrived at the FCC from prisoners, their family members and other people concerned about this issue, describing the personal and financial costs of high prison phone rates.

“When Global Tel Link took over phone services [in Mississippi] the prices skyrocketed,” wrote Michael Herrin, at SMCI in Leakesville, Mississippi. “My sister and mother live in Alabama. In order for us to speak $50.00 must be paid up front for 30 minutes. $8.50 is initially deducted leaving a credit of $41.50 for which I can only talk for approximately 20 minutes. No family can afford to spend $50.00 for a 20 minute conversation.”

“Mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters as well as children are being torn apart because it is impossible to talk to one another,” he added.

“I delivered my daughter while incarcerated and I am yearning to bond with her in any way possible, especially via telephone where she can hear and learn to recognize her mother’s voice,” said Jodie Cobb, at Lee Arrendale State Prison in Alto, Georgia. “If only the rates for collect calls in the state penitentiary were more affordable to the working, struggling and often very poor classes then I might get the privilege of hearing my daughter say, ‘Hello, Mommy’ or a simple ‘I love you.’ This is a big deal to prisoners such as myself who do not get visits.”

Interstate calls from Georgia prisons are among the most expensive in the country. Upon accepting an interstate collect call, the recipient pays a $3.95 connection fee plus $.89 per minute. A 15-minute long distance collect call from Georgia costs $17.30. Calls from county jails are no different; as of 2012, the Clayton County Jail, Cobb County Jail, DeKalb County Jail, Fulton County Jail and Dougherty County Jail charged the same $3.95 connection fee plus $.89 per minute rate for collect interstate calls. Phone calls from Georgia jails are also riddled with service fees, such as a $6.00 charge that people have to pay to deposit funds into their account using credit or debit cards by telephone.

“My wife and family struggle to make ends meet outside of prison so they very rarely have any money to place on a phone account so I can call them,” wrote Keith Connors, at SCI-Mahanoy in Frackville, Pennsylvania. “It costs over five dollars for a fifteen-minute phone call, my family can’t afford it and I most certainly can’t afford it.... When I sit out in the dayroom and look over at the phones I imagine myself on one of them speaking to my children reassuring them that daddy is fine and that I’ll be home soon.”

It is important to keep pressure on the FCC to act on the Wright Petition, especially now that the Commissioners have indicated they will consider taking action. Please see the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice flyer on page 37 of this issue of PLN for updated instructions on how to submit a comment to the FCC. Prison Legal News is a partner organization in the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, along with MAG-Net and Working Narratives.

PLN wants to acknowledge prisoners at the following facilities, where, based on the volume of comments submitted to the FCC, it is clear they have been doing serious organizing around prison phone issues: Sussex II State Prison in Waverly, VA; SCI-Dallas in Dallas, PA; SCI-Albion in Albion, PA; SCI-Forest in Marienville, PA; SCI-Somerset in Somerset, PA; SCI-Huntingdon in Huntingdon, PA; Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, MI; Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, MI; Buckingham Correctional Facility in Dillwyn, VA; Anamosa State Penitentiary in Anamosa, IA; and Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, IL. A special acknowledgment goes to prisoners at SCI-Greene in Waynesburg, PA, who have submitted more than 80 letters to the FCC in support of the Wright Petition.

It is only through such concerted efforts that we can make a difference and effect change, and PLN extends our thanks to everyone who has contacted the FCC concerning this issue.

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