Will the FCC ban commissions, cap all calling rates, and eliminate fees?

by Leah Sakala, October 27, 2014

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission proposed several new regulations to protect the families of incarcerated people from the predatory prison telephone industry. These rules would fill major gaps in the current regulations and help ensure that no child who wants to talk to his or her incarcerated parent will fall through the cracks.

As we promised, here’s an overview of the FCC’s 77-page notice:

The FCC is calling for feedback on its new proposal to…

  • Ban kickbacks altogether. The FCC’s previous order said that companies aren’t allowed to treat the kickbacks as part of the cost of doing business, but the FCC is now seeking comment on getting rid of this perverse incentive that drives up the cost of calls.
  • Cap in-state and out-of-state calling rates. The previous FCC regulation capped only the rates for calls between states, which tend to be more expensive but also only make up about 20% of all calls from incarcerated people. This new proposal would make sure that a family wouldn’t have to pay more to talk to an incarcerated loved one just because that person was in the same state.
  • Cap, limit, or flat-out prohibit “ancillary fees.” Our research found that fees drive up the phone bills families have to pay, so this step would make a huge difference for the more than 2 million kids with an incarcerated parent.

The FCC also requests more feedback on…

  • How to address additional communication services, such as video visitation, that suffer from many of the same market failures as phone services.
  • Strategies to make the prison phone market more competitive, and increase access for individuals with disabilities.
  • Applying the new regulations to existing contracts.
  • Coordinating with state regulatory efforts.
  • The costs and requirements for phone systems among different kinds of facilities.
  • The actual cost of providing communications services in correctional facilities, and cost/benefit analyses of the regulatory proposals.

Here at PPI, we were pleased to see that the FCC cited our research, presentations, petition submissions, and technical comments throughout their proposal to take a huge step forward. We’ll certainly continue to weigh in as soon as the comment period opens up (when notice is published in the Federal Register, which should be any day now). The comment period will run for 45 days, and we hope that you will share your thoughts with the FCC too. We’ll be sure to keep you all posted as soon as the comment period opens.

We need your help now to counter the powerful prison phone lobby.

by Peter Wagner, October 17, 2014

We need your help now to counter the powerful prison phone lobby.

Today, by a 3 to 2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission agreed to take the next steps to regulate the prison and jail telephone industry. In the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the FCC is actively considering, among other things:

  • Extending the existing regulation and price caps on interstate calls to all calls, including calls within the same state.
  • Further restricting the ability of the industry to make kickback payments to the prison and jail facilities, which currently drives up the call rates.
  • Fully addressing the ancillary charges for opening, maintaining, funding and closing accounts that consume an estimated 400 million dollars per year.

The actual notice is not yet public, and we’ll have a more detailed analysis of the new order when it’s out, but it’s clear that we have a lot of work to do in a short period of time — and we need your support to get the work done.

The notice is likely to ask hundreds of detailed questions about how the current system works. We’ll need to provide those answers — and rebut the telephone industry’s recent proposal that would stunt reform — in a short amount of time. We won’t know the exact date until the notice is published in the Federal Register, but we estimate that the first round of comments will be due in early December.

The Prison Policy Initiative’s track record is clear. But we need your financial support to gather all of this information and organize the stories of the millions of people being exploited by this industry all in the next few months. Can you help us affect change once again with a gift today?

Right now, a group of donors will match the first $19,000 we raise. Please help us reach this goal as soon as possible so we can get back to the work of protecting the nation’s poorest families from the predatory prison and jail industry. Please contribute generously today.

Can you make a gift today and join the Individual donors who are fueling the movement for justice reform?

by Peter Wagner, October 6, 2014

handout describing PPI's national incarceration briefing series

As we wrote in our brand new annual report, this has been an especially prolific year for the Prison Policy Initiative. For example, in addition to our ongoing campaign work, we were frustrated that major data gaps were holding back the movement for justice reform. So, we stepped up to the plate by creating our first National Incarceration Briefing Series: four ambitious reports (and 50 state incarceration profiles) that reveal the current state of the U.S. carceral crisis.

These publications — funded entirely by individual donor support — were so popular that they overwhelmed our server and sparked more media attention than we could keep track of.

We’re just getting started. We’re primed to start working on a follow up Briefing Series, on top of keeping up the momentum on our major campaigns, but we need your help. Can you take a minute today to propel the movement for justice forward by making a gift to support our work?

Your generous gift will be doubled thanks to a matching challenge sponsored by other donors. Thank you for your partnership in this movement for justice.

A year and a half of hard work has brought a big win for local families.

by Leah Sakala, October 3, 2014

This week brought great news for families in Santa Barbara County, California: the local jail has decided to end its ban on all incoming letters from families and friends. Previously, people who wanted to write to incarcerated loved ones were only allowed to use postcards.

As our report found, letter bans jeopardize family ties that are key to reducing recidivism, running contrary to correctional best practices (you can also check out our short video for more info on letter bans). Furthermore, a federal court found that banning letters from home was unconstitutional.

We were deeply concerned when we learned of Santa Barbara County’s plans to institute the letter ban a year and a half ago, so we immediately organized a sign on letter with more than 50 local and national organizations urging the county to reconsider. Local community members in Santa Barbara have also been hard at work organizing the Right to Write Campaign to overturn the ban (here’s a powerful video they put together about their work).

Now, Santa Barbara has joined the growing number of counties that have decided that letter bans are a step in the wrong direction. Congratulations to the Right to Write Campaign, sign on letter participants, and everyone else whose hard work brought about this big win for families in Santa Barbara County!

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