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From the Editor

The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, co-founded by the Human Rights Defense Center, has led the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to curb some of the more egregious abuses of the prison telecom industry. It has also helped focus increased attention from all sources, including the media, the public and those government officials not getting kickbacks from prison phone companies. While it is known that the companies record prison and jail phone calls on behalf of their government collaborators, what was not known is what exactly they did with those phone recordings. As this month’s cover story on the leak of prison phone call data indicates, at least Securus retains all the recordings on their internal servers.

Whether the data leak was facilitated by hackers or a disgruntled employee is unknown. What is known is that eavesdropping on phone calls, including calls made by prisoners to their attorneys, is apparently yet another service that the government has outsourced to private, for-profit companies. It’s unlikely that Securus is alone in these business practices. For years, prisoners and their attorneys alike have been skeptical of claims that their phone calls are not recorded by prisons and jails, and those suspicions have proven to be correct. It remains to be seen what comes from this latest chapter in the prison phone industry saga.

We have continued our work at the FCC level on behalf of prisoners and their families with respect to achieving lower phone rates. While the DC Circuit Court of Appeals considers a lawsuit filed by Securus, Global Tel*Link and other parties challenging the FCC’s rate caps, some prison systems have implemented new phone rates that have resulted in higher costs to prisoners and their families – particularly, but not exclusively, for local calls. This is a temporary setback; other prisons and jails have adopted lower rates, and we are hopeful the appellate court will uphold the FCC’s rate caps, including a cap of $.11 per minute at all state prisons (the cap is a maximum and actual rates may be lower).

As this issue of PLN goes to press, we are preparing to file a motion to intervene in the lawsuit challenging the FCC’s October 2015 order capping the cost of prison and jail calls. The briefs will be posted on the Campaign website, Meanwhile, please continue sending us your phone bills, especially if they have gone up after other provisions of the FCC’s order went into effect earlier this year. Likewise, please let us know about any fees being charged related to prison and jail phone calls that exceed the limits imposed by the FCC – caps on ancillary fees were not stayed by the Court of Appeals, and are now in effect nationwide. [See: PLN, May 2016, p.36].

This issue of PLN contains a survey asking our readers what they think of PLN and how we can better improve to serve their needs. It has been a while since we did a reader survey, and we plan to get back on a biennial schedule. The sooner you can complete the survey and return it to us, the better. We hope to have the results tabulated and analyzed by the end of the year so we can report them in our February 2017 issue.

In addition to asking readers about PLN and how we can make it better, we would like your thoughts on other services we could provide. One is increasing the number of books we publish: What kinds of books do you think would serve the needs of prisoners that are not being published already? We have also been asked about publishing a magazine focused exclusively on criminal law and procedure. Would you be interested in subscribing to a national criminal law magazine reporting case decisions and sentencing law and trends? What type of content would you like to see in it? How much would you be willing to pay for it, since nothing is free? We welcome your ideas and feedback.

I would like to thank our readers who send us court decisions, settlements and verdicts in the cases they have won. We either report them in PLN or post them on our website. Please note that we usually cannot return the documents we receive, so never send us your only copy or the original documents.

As the summer wears on, we can note that while a lot of other people are on vacation or out of the office, here at PLN we keep working away on behalf of prisoners’ rights. We just had oral argument in the Eleventh Circuit over the ongoing censorship of PLN by the Florida Department of Corrections. We are also litigating the censorship of PLN as a purported “sexually explicit” publication by the Arizona Department of Corrections. Likewise, we are challenging bans on publications and non-postcard mail by jails in Oklahoma, Tennessee, California, Michigan and Illinois, among other jurisdictions.

We have very limited resources and do a great job leveraging what we have to maximize the results. We have way more to do in terms of safeguarding prisoners’ First Amendment right to receive PLN, as well as our books and other literature, than we have the resources to tackle. Thus, we are trying to raise funds to hire another staff attorney to do this important work. If you can make a donation to help make this a reality, please do so – we have already raised over $60,000 towards our goal of $100,000. If you can make a contribution so we can hire another attorney to protect the free speech rights of prisoners and those who want to communicate with them, please donate now.

To put this into perspective, if you are a prisoner in Washington state, Oregon, Nevada, California, Alabama, Massachusetts, Michigan or New York, then PLN litigation and advocacy has ensured that you are able to get a lot more to read in the mail than prison officials would otherwise be allowing. Likewise for prisoners in over 60 jails around the country, from big ones in Dallas and Atlanta to smaller ones in Columbia County, Oregon and Berkeley County, South Carolina. A small donation will go a long way with PLN; if you want to make a donation where it will make a huge difference, then make it here.

Enjoy this issue of PLN and encourage others to subscribe, and please return the enclosed survey. 

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