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From the Editor

The month of August was fairly eventful from a criminal justice perspective. New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy, under which police officers stopped and searched hundreds of thousands of predominantly black and Hispanic men, was found to be unconstitutional. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. announced that federal prosecutors would no longer seek mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. And most importantly, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finally acted on the Wright petition and voted to cap the cost of interstate prison and jail phone calls nationwide.

In regard to the latter development, as reported in greater detail in this issue of PLN, more than ten years ago Martha Wright filed a lawsuit over the high cost of prison telephone calls, which resulted in a petition for rulemaking being submitted to the FCC. The FCC’s recent order capping interstate prison phone rates is a victory directly attributable to the hard work and efforts of Deborah Golden, Phil Fornaci and Lee Petro, the attorneys who filed the lawsuit and pursued the FCC petition, who have steadfastly advocated for justice for Mrs. Wright.

Kudos also go to the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, founded in 2011 by Working Narratives, the Center for Media Justice and Prison Legal News with the singular goal of mobilizing and organizing mass support to move the FCC to act on the Wright petition – which had languished for over a decade. Additionally, FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn took special interest in this issue and was instrumental in having the FCC order a cap on prison phone rates. PLN has been engaged in the struggle against exorbitantly-priced prison phone calls since 1992, including a meeting with Chairwoman Clyburn and presenting at a recent FCC workshop on prison phone-related issues. [See: PLN, Aug. 2013, p.26].

The hundreds of prisoners and their family members who contacted the FCC about the high cost of prison phone calls also deserve credit [see: PLN, July 2013, p.34], as do the many other organizations and individuals who advocated for reform of the prison phone industry. The success of the Wright petition campaign shows that with sufficient resources and involvement, significant change can be accomplished even with respect to difficult issues that do not have widespread public support.

While the FCC’s cap on interstate prison phone calls is important, it’s not the end of the struggle but rather the beginning, since interstate calls (those that cross state lines) comprise less than 20% of all prison and jail phone calls. Most calls are local and intrastate. Also, eight states have eliminated “commission” kickbacks by prison phone companies, which means 42 have not – and even in states that forgo kickbacks, that generally only applies to state prisons, not local jails.

We hope that the FCC’s order capping the cost of interstate prison phone calls will spur state public utility commissions across the country to take action on the issue of intrastate prison and jail calls, and cap those rates or eliminate the kickbacks that prison telecom companies give to government agencies in exchange for lucrative monopoly contracts.

In other news, we are finally getting settled into PLN’s new office in Florida and are caught up on book orders. We apologize for any delays or inconvenience caused by our move. We ask that when you contact PLN, please keep your correspondence brief and to the point. It takes staff time to read the letters we receive and determine what the issues are, and it’s easier to miss things like address change requests or subscription inquiries in long, meandering letters.

We periodically conduct sample mailings to introduce potential new subscribers to PLN. Sometimes people do not realize they have received a sample issue, then contact us to inquire why they are not getting additional issues. To continue receiving PLN you need to order a paid subscription. If the label on your issue of PLN has no subscriber code, then it’s a free sample copy and you are not a subscriber. We apologize for any confusion.

Lastly, as the holiday season approaches we have added a new title to PLN’s bookstore: the Guide to GED Preparation. We are also offering the Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Courses in the U.S. and Canada (3rd ed.) at a holiday discount. Buy it between now and the end of the year for only $35.00 instead of $49.99 (plus $6.00 shipping unless your book order is over $50.00). Each copy of the Guerrilla Handbook comes with an updated supplement that indicates any changes since the book was published; e.g., if schools have gone to online courses only, new contact addresses, etc. This title makes a great holiday gift for prisoners who want to learn how to further their education.

Enjoy this issue of PLN and as always, please encourage others to subscribe.

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