FCC Opens Rulemaking Process To Lower Price of Prison Phone Calls

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

One of the most accurate predictors of which prisoners will be re-incarcerated is the number and depth of their connections maintained with family on the outside. Jailers on the federal state and local level have long cut deals with phone companies to make huge profits on calls between prisoners and their families. Thanks to years of patient grassroots activism, that might be about to end.

FCC Opens Rulemaking Process To Lower Price of Prison Phone Calls

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Some years ago, one of my own children was in prison on the other side of the continent. She used to call home 15 minutes each Sunday night. That brief weekly phone call cost our family almost $100 each month. We were not alone.

The families of millions of federal, state and local prisoners have been viciously squeezed by the legal collusion of long distance phone companies with jailers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons down to state departments of corrections and local sheriffs. Federal regs require phone companies to deliver cheap local phone service, with a locality usually defined as the telephone exchange, the first three digits after the area code. Rates for calls outside an exchange however, were classified as “long distance,” and not subject to rate controls.

Phone companies made deals with jailers for exclusive access to their prisons and jails in return for lucrative one time kickbacks or a percentage of the gross, along with the occasional campaign or charitable contribution. For the jailers and phone companies it was a classic win-win situation in which everybody at the table got over, except of course prisoners and their families. Researchers attempting to gather information on the actual rates across the country have often been met with non-cooperation on the part of state and local officials reluctant to divulge their manifestly corrupt deals which have constructed this onerous toll booth blocking communication between prisoners and their families.

Ten years ago a grandmother filed a petition with the FCC noting that a five minute call with her grandson cost $18. In the decade since agitation and organizing across the country has finally moved the Federal Communication to take the first tentative step to remedy the problem. On December 28, 2012, the FCC finally issued a "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” the beginning of the period in which it assembles information and takes public comment prior to the issuance of new rules.

At some point in the next few months a period of open public comment will ensue, in which members of the general public can weigh in online, by mail or in person on the issue. The place to go for updated information is www.phonejustice.org, that's www.phonejustice.org.

We need to re-integrate and absorb those currently behind prison walls into our families and communities. The cost of communicating with our relatives behind those walls must come down.

Visit phonejustice.org and sign up for their email list to keep our families connected. For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He lives and works near Marietta GA and is a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He can be reached via this site's contact page, or at [email protected].



Too, too many connections

Mr. D., this is truly profoundly interesting, and one more outstanding example of how America is run like the "company store" of the 1800s and early 1900s period.

AT&T, when one goes back to the early 1900s, was primarily owned by the Rockefeller family (and I've yet to find any valid financial evidence that it has changed ownership, and it has been "officially" reconstituted since Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, allowing for further consolidation of the media, etc.) and we note that it was Sen. Jay Rockefeller who led the way for the US Senate grant of immunity, after the fact, to the telecoms (AT&T chiefly among them) regarding that warrentless wiretapping stuff.

The Blackstone Group, founded by David Rockefeller's protege -- or lackey -- Peter G. Peterson (no doubt with some financial help from his mentor, Rockefeller) rescued the CCA (Corrections Corporation of America -- please see links below), again the continuum of connections to the Rockefeller family, the privatization of prisons, and the usurious long-distance and telecom rates charged to the captive prison "clients."

Clearly, it as if they, the top-level plutocrats, have gamed and rigged everything against us, the modern day serf class!

It would be most useful to find out the "official" owners of AT&T, GE, ExxonMobil, JPMorgan Chase, etc., et al., traditionally Rockefeller-Morgan enterprises all.



That year, CCA spun off its real estate operations, Prison Realty Trust, from its correctional management services in a failed move that required a bailout from well-connected private equity firm, The Blackstone Group. The firm brought in Lehman Brothers and Bank of America to lend $350 million in exchange for four seats on the company’s board and 25 percent of company stock.


This occurred as Prison Realty, struggling to meet its dividend obligations, announced that it had agreed to a restructuring program led by an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group LLC and affiliates of The Blackstone Group. These parties, along with an affiliate of Bank of America, agreed to pump $350 million into Prison Realty, which would cease to be a REIT, and help to expand its credit line.

Battle in NYS over phone rates from prison-history\

It is a good thing that I disappeared my comment yesterday by not hitting the "save" button after preview...  This morning I google searched to check on my memory of the battle in NYS and which governor ended, or promised...

   First listing, was perfect.  In the North County Gazette, Jan. 8, 2007 "first published" date, is story, "NYS Reduces Excessive Rates for Inmate Phone Calls" www.northcountrygazette.org/articles/2007/010807ReducedRates.html   Briefly: "Albany"  "On the eve of a scheduled argument before the state's highest court by the Center for Constitutional Rights to stop the state government and the telephone service provider from charging exorbitant phone rates to families of prisoners, Gov. Eliot Spitzer has announced the state will voluntarily reduce rates...

  "Long seen as an unfair tax on inmate families ...will charge only the cost of the call...without a state commission on the rate. (my underline)

  I remember the battle.  I don't know if the promise went thru and stayed.  (I say that because I heard a lawyer talk about "Stop and Frisk" lawsuits on WBAI evening news when I awoke during rebroadcast last night, to hear that the NYPD has a "history of ignoring court orders" until "contempt order" by judge in past cases. 

     The unequal application of justice is not news, but the lengths to which the states and feds (and privatized) prisons go to humiliate, degrade the incarcerated as well as exploit them monitarily is not well known by the general public.  The racist aspects of law enforcement needs more coverage.  A good point was made a week ago on "Where We Live", WBAI radio show about political prisoners, and in some ways, all prison incarceration in the U.S. is political because of policy decisions and selective enforcement (racist) and sentencing (racist).  (Today's last segment on DemNow caught my attention: criminalization of pregnant women, more often of Black women, in growing removal of person rights for women in re "fetus protection" (part of getting rid of Roe v Wade, piece by piece and subjugation of women).   "Justice" is not EQUAL in the U.S.  - news:Lynne Stewart's cancer is back, one more case of U.S. "not justice".  We know of the mega-banks/Wall Street stealing Billions of $$$ from the U.S  public and people, making millions homeless in fraud and paying a small percentage of the profit and DO NOT SEE ONE DAY OF JAIL TIME.  (Eric Holder, selector in charge of Dept. of Justice chosing fines over criminal charges.) 

  Finally, the media and general public tries hard to convince people to feel shame for having a family member in prison or for being in prison or ever having been in prison...but NO SHAME for stealing BIG from the people or U.S. coffers as in BailOuts.  Punishment goes on endless, no jobs, no access to public housing and no parole either.  My last of 3 long time prison pen-pals (from the late "Grandpa" Al Lewis' show, with cohost Karen Lewis, wife, on WBAI- they had a pen-pal project; I had 2 pen-pals in NYS prison, guys and a woman in feds, over ten, ten and 6 years.  The woman got paroled 6 months early on medical early release only after she proved she could pay for her liver treatment, for liver illness got in feds prison.  The men, a disabled activist, Muslim, who called me "Ma"- I'm old enough, out over a year.)  The youngest, poet, after fighting for almost 20 years for his freedom, finallly got parole ----end of 2012: "Parole granted for reason of wrongful conviction".   See Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow.