by Carrie Wilkinson
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) submitted a formal comment on three Federal Communications Commission dockets on August 9, 2017, accusing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who formerly represented prison telecom giant Securus Technologies, Inc., of having a conflict of interest. In its filings, HRDC noted that “not only does Mr. Pai’s conduct give the appearance of a conflict of interest, there appears to be an actual conflict.”
In a 2011 questionnaire submitted by Pai to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation prior to his initial nomination hearing to become an FCC Commissioner, he stated that as an attorney he had performed legal work for Securus and described the company as one of his clients when he worked for the law firm of Jenner & Block. Pai was confirmed by the Committee and joined the FCC as a Commissioner in May 2012.
Since then, Pai has vigorously and consistently taken action to undercut all efforts to impose federal regulations, including rate caps, on the Inmate Calling Services (ICS) industry, which benefits Securus – his former client – as well as other ICS providers. The lack of federal regulation guarantees Securus the ability to ...
by Carrie Wilkinson
In a September 2016 article on the fight for comprehensive prison and jail phone reform, PLN reported that while limits on ancillary fees had been implemented by the FCC, intrastate (in-state) rate caps were stayed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals after the FCC’s order was appealed by Global Tel*Link, Securus and other Inmate Calling Service (ICS) providers as well as various corrections officials. [See: PLN, Sept 2016, p.26].
As a result of that appeal the intrastate rate caps never went into effect, though interstate (long distance) rate caps ordered by the FCC in 2013 remained in place, at $.25/min. for collect calls and $.21/min. for debit and prepaid calls. Thus, in some cases – particularly local jails –unregulated in-state phone rates are much higher than long-distance rates. Within state prison systems, intrastate rates range up to $5.70 for a 15-minute call (in Kentucky), though in 22 states they are $.11 per minute or less.
Shortly before oral argument was scheduled in the D.C. Court of Appeals, counsel for the FCC advised the Court that due to a change in the composition of the FCC (resulting from the new ...
Illinois Governor Bruce V. Rauner signed HB 6200, the Family Connections Bill, into law on August 22, 2016. Under the provisions of that legislation, domestic prison phone rates within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and Department of Juvenile Justice will be capped at $0.07/min. while the rate for international calls will be capped at $0.23/min., effective January 1, 2018. Advocates argued that the bill, which received bipartisan support, will reduce recidivism and help prisoners reintegrate into their communities after being released by making it more affordable for them to stay in touch with their families while incarcerated.
“We need to approach our criminal justice system with more compassion,” Governor Rauner stated. “I want those who did something wrong to face punishment, but we must make sure that the punishment fits the crime. We need to explore new avenues so that we’re balancing punishment with rehabilitation and not needlessly tearing families and lives apart.”
An order issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in October 2015, which went into effect at IDOC facilities in March 2016, eliminated all but three ancillary fees that can be charged for inmate calling services (ICS). As a result ...
As previously reported in PLN, the prison telecom industry has been successful so far in delaying implementation of the rate caps ordered by the FCC in October 2015. [See: PLN, May 2016, p.36; Dec. 2015, p.40]. And while the limits on ancillary fees were implemented in prisons in March 2016 and jails in June 2016, intrastate rate caps remain stayed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals after Global Tel*Link, Securus and corrections officials filed suit challenging the FCC’s order. Some prison phone providers have even increased intrastate rates, which are currently unregulated, to offset lost revenue from fees and interstate calls.
Faced with the reality of long delays while the previously-ordered rate caps work their way through the court system, the FCC made a strategic but difficult decision to increase the caps to cover phone-related costs allegedly incurred by correctional agencies. The goal of the rate cap increase was to moot claims in the pending lawsuit related to cost recovery by prison and jail officials.
Under the new rate caps, all debit/prepaid calls from federal and state prisons will be capped at $0.13/min. Debit/prepaid calls from jails with more than 1 ...
On April 6, 2016, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai conducted a Field Hearing in Columbia, South Carolina on the subject of contraband cell phones in prisons and jails.
The panel did not address questions submitted prior to the hearing by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News. Those questions dealt with the companies involved in the development of new technologies to detect contraband cell phones – including Inmate Calling Service (ICS) providers that have price-gouged prisoners and their families for decades with exorbitant phone rates and fees.
HRDC had inquired about the cost/benefit of cell phone detection services, and whether the cost for cell phone detection is passed on to prisoners and their families through inflated ICS phone rates. In the latter regard, HRDC inquired, “To what extent is the effort to eliminate cell phone use by prisoners a ploy to increase revenues through the government monopoly ICS phone system and its attendant commission kickbacks to government agencies?”
Additional questions raised by HRDC involved the smuggling of contraband cell phones by prison and jail staff, and whether proposed jamming technologies would affect people located near the correctional facilities where they are implemented.
The December 2015 issue of Prison Legal News detailed a historic October 2015 rulemaking decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to comprehensively reform the prison phone industry. Regular PLN readers are all too familiar with abuses by prison phone companies, which have long price-gouged prisoners and their families. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.1; April 2011, p.1].
The FCC voted to cap debit and prepaid prison phone calls at $.11/min., and collect calls at $.14/min. (to be phased down to $.11/min. over a two-year period). Prepaid and debit phone calls at jails were capped on a scale based on facility size, ranging from $.14/min. to $.22/min., while collect calls at jails were capped at $.49/min. (to phase down to lower rates over a two-year period). The rate caps for calls from federal and state prison systems were to become effective March 17, 2016, while the caps on jail calls were scheduled to go into effect June 20, 2016.
Pursuant to the FCC’s order, all connection fees for prison and jail phone calls were prohibited (e.g., for rates such as $1.50 to connect plus $.20/minute, the $1.50 fee was ...
A petition for review has been filed in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the Second Order and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on November 4, 2015, which made sweeping reforms to the prison phone industry. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.40].
The petition, filed by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel and the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, alleges that the Order exceeds the FCC’s statutory authority to prevent unfair practices and ignores evidence of the costs that correctional facilities incur when providing phone services to prisoners. The petitioners have asked the appellate court to set aside and enjoin enforcement of the FCC’s Order.
As previously reported in Prison Legal News, the Order, set to take effect in all state and federal prisons on March 17, 2016 and in all other detention facilities nationwide on June 15, 2016, establishes a rate cap of $0.11/min. for debit and prepaid calls made from state and federal prisons and $0.14-$0.22/min. for debit and prepaid calls from local detention facilities based on their population size. Collect calls will initially be capped at higher amounts and phased ...
Breaking News! FCC Votes to Further Reform Prison Phone Industry
by Carrie Wilkinson
The cover story of the December 2013 issue of Prison Legal News was titled “FCC Order Heralds Hope for Reform of Prison Phone Industry.” It included a primer on prison and jail phone services, and detailed a landmark decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that capped the cost of interstate (long distance) rates for phone calls made by prisoners and enacted other reforms. The cover story concluded by saying, “Lady Justice may be blind, but judging from the FCC’s order she is not deaf – and the pleas of prisoners and their families for reform of the abusive prison phone industry are finally being heard loud and clear.”
Exactly two years later in this issue of PLN, after much work by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), our partners in the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice and other advocates, we can report that not only are the voices of prisoners and their families still being heard at the national level, but long-awaited relief is coming as the result of yet another historic FCC rulemaking decision.
On October 22, 2015, the Commission voted 3-2 along ...
$750,000 Settlement for Washington State Prisoner’s Wrongful Death
by Carrie Wilkinson
Although Prison Legal News and its parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), are best known for litigation involving censorship by prison and jail officials, HRDC also co-counsels select other cases, mainly involving wrongful deaths on behalf ...