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From HRDC executive director Paul Wright, October 23, 2015, FCC Caps the Cost of Prison Phone Calls

October 23, 2015

From HRDC executive director Paul Wright:

Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission took a historic step by capping the cost of prison and jail phone calls. For decades, prisoners and their families have been ruthlessly exploited by telecom companies and their government collaborators who monetize human contact and want people to pay as much as possible to communicate with their loved ones in prison. Since 1992 the Human Rights Defense Center has been in the vanguard challenging these exploitive practices and seeking to end them. In 2011 we co-founded the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, with the express goal of getting the FCC to end abusive phone rates for prisoners and their families. We have poured thousands of staff hours into the Campaign, as well as many trips to DC to meet with FCC staff, and it paid off.

The FCC action significantly reduces the cost of prison phone calls to no more than $.11 per minute and also reduces the cost of calls made from jails. It bans all but three ancillary fees charged by the telecom industry to bolster their profit margins and bottom lines. Most of the reforms will go into effect within 90 days of publication in the Federal Register. We anticipate litigation by the hedge fund-owned prison telephone companies and efforts to evade the FCC rules, which will require continued vigilance and struggle on our part.

Thanks to everyone who has supported this issue over the years, as it has been a long time getting here. And thanks to Deb Golden and Phil Fornacci at DC Prisoners’ Legal Services for getting the FCC ball rolling back in 2001 by filing the original case, Wright v. CCA, which became the Wright petition in the FCC. Lee Petro at Drinker Biddle deserves a huge thank you for doing the heavy lifting on telecom regulatory issues with the FCC and patiently explaining the whole FCC process to the rest of us.

We could not have achieved this victory without your support! We are very thankful to all the people who told us their stories and gave us the details about their experiences with prison phone calls, which we were able to analyze and relay to the FCC. Also, a huge thanks to everyone who donated money to help us do the hard, time-consuming work of data gathering and analysis.

After languishing for over a decade on the FCC docket, we can thank Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and her staff for showing the leadership to move on this issue and get the FCC to finally enact comprehensive prison telecom reform. We are also grateful to Commissioner Rosenworcel and Chairman Wheeler for voting in favor of the prison phone reforms during yesterday’s hearing.

Over the years, HRDC’s Prison Phone Justice team has included myself, Alex Friedmann, Carrie Wilkinson, Mel Motel, David Ganim, Mike Rigby and John Dannenberg. Getting the data for our advocacy work has not been easy and we have had to file several lawsuits to obtain prison phone contracts. Thanks to attorney Rob McDuff for representing PLN in our suit against the Mississippi DOC, and to attorneys Erik Stahl and Angela Galloway at Davis Wright Tremaine for representing us in a suit to get an ICE detention facility phone contract from the Department of Homeland Security.

We are far from through with the fight for prison phone justice and have more battles ahead of us. Please make a donation to celebrate our victory in the FCC and to fund our continuing work on this issue -- thank you for your support! You can make a donation to HRDC here: