Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a partial stay requested by the telecommunications companies effectively delaying last year’s Order by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate the prison phone industry. FCC Chair Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn have already expressed their regret in this temporary setback.
The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice echoes this disappointment but we remain hopeful that the rate caps passed by the FCC will be fully implemented. We are pleased that the court’s ruling does allow for the elimination of ancillary fees, including connection fees that in the past have cost up to $3.99 per call. The court’s ruling established rate ceilings of 21 cents and 25 cents for debit and collect calls respectively, for both interstate and intrastate calls. This is a far cry from the 11 cent cap deemed reasonable by the FCC, and the five cents a minute rate already adopted by several states, most recently Virginia. Regardless, when the FCC’s new rules take effect for all prisons on March 17, 2016, they will bring immediate relief to families that are paying the cost of mass incarceration in the United States.
As Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, stated, “Rather than the public interest and fundamental decency, the prison phone companies are placing their greed ahead of the notion that everyone should have access to telephone rates that are fair just and reasonable.”
Steven Renderos, Senior Campaign Manager of the Center for Media Justice said, “While we’re disappointed in the court’s partial stay from some of the reforms in the FCC’s order, we now have certainty that as of March 17th these phone calls will be more affordable than they’ve ever been.”
Nick Szuberla, of Nation Inside, said, “It is no surprise that those who profit from prison phone calls refuse to remove their hands from the pockets of the families impacted by abusive rates. Families that have spoken out for decades for fair rates will have to wait a little longer for justice.”
Justice delayed is justice denied. We again applaud the efforts of the FCC to rein in the companies that for too long have been taking advantage of a captive population.