2015’s Criminal Justice Victories

by Peter Wagner and Bernadette Rabuy, December 29, 2015

2015 was a year of big victories for the Prison Policy Initiative. Beyond a record number of ground-breaking reports, our campaigns took some very big steps forward and, in some cases, those victories culminated in major policy changes.

Here are some of the biggest wins in our campaigns this year:

Telephone justice

  • The Federal Communications Commission extended their regulation of inter-state calls to also apply to in-state calls, and further lowered the maximum rates and fees that can be charged. The FCC is also now requesting comments on closing the last of the loopholes, which include video visitation, email, etc.

Video visitation industry

    thumbnails of press coverage and editorial support on reining in the video visitation industry

  • Our report Screening Out Family Time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails exposed county jails and private companies working together to replace traditional in-person visits with expensive video chats and grainy computer images.
  • Our report, combined with investigative reporting by Portland, Oregon’s Street Roots, led the Multnomah County Sheriff to announce that he would amend the county’s Securus video visitation contract to bring back in-person visits. This was the first time that a video visitation contract was ever amended to bring back in-person visits.
  • We collaborated with comedians to produce four hilarious short videos that take on the video visitation industry’s offensive claim that expensive, glitchy video visitation is just like Skype.
  • We shamed the largest provider of video visitation, Securus, into changing its policy of explicitly requiring, right in its contracts, that correctional facilities using its service ban in-person visitation. Because Securus has shifted responsibility for this repugnant decision to elected sheriffs, we now have more political leverage to encourage the use of video visitation as a supplement to in-person visitation and never as a replacement.
  • Thanks in part to our research and advocacy, a new law in Texas recognizes that virtual visits are not the same as in-person visits and mandates that each county jail provide a minimum of two in-person visits each week.
  • The Federal Communications Commission has requested comments on video visitation, due January 19, 2016.

Prison gerrymandering

Sentencing enhancement zones

Driver’s Licenses

  • Supported by our Suspending Common Sense report, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously voted to repeal a law which automatically suspends the driver’s licenses of people convicted of drug offenses unrelated to driving. This law, a relic of the War on Drugs, makes it harder for people with drug convictions to rebuild their lives. The unanimous support of the Senate and the strong state-wide editorial support from the Boston Herald to the Boston Globe to the Berkshire Eagle has us feeling good about our chances in the House.

Thank you for helping us do all of this work. Here’s to an even more successful 2016!

For more on these and other victories, be sure to see our most recent annual report.

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