I need your help.
100000
77852
I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to put the problem of mass incarceration — and the perverse incentives that fuel it — on the national agenda. Over the last 16 years, our campaigns have protected our democracy from the prison system and protected the poorest families in this country from the predatory prison telephone industry. Our reports untangle the statistics and recruit new allies.

But now, more than ever, we need your help to put data & compassion into the conversation. Any gift you can make today will be matched by other donors and go twice as far.

Thank you.
—Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

by Peter Wagner, February 8, 2017

On Monday, arguments were heard in a federal court case challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s regulations of the prison and jail telephone industry. A decision is not expected for several months, but there are a few updates to share nevertheless.

Centurylink, Global Tel*Link, Pay Tel, Securus Technologies, and Telmate sued the FCC when it started regulating the industry. Shortly thereafter, the Prison Policy Initiative joined with the D.C. Prisoners’ Legal Services Project, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, and the Office of Communication, Inc. of the United Church of Christ as intervenors in support of the government respondents in the case, and we were all represented by the Institute for Public Representation at the Georgetown University Law Center. By joining the case, we could help the FCC defend its orders, and ensure that the unique interests of the families and other stakeholders were represented in the case. The recent presidential election made our 2013 decision to intervene especially important.

The presidential election reshuffled the seats at the FCC. Ajit Pai, a commissioner since 2012 was made Chairman, and even though Pai had previously condemned the market failure caused by the corrupt commission system, he ultimately voted against the FCC’s regulations of the industry. And on January 31, the FCC told the Court that it was not going to defend two aspects of the regulations. Even as the FCC refused to support its own regulations, our attorney, Andrew Schwartzman, was able to defend the FCC’s work before the Court. We’re glad we intervened.

We don’t know what the Court is going to decide, and we don’t yet know how or whether Chairman Pai wants the FCC to address what he saw as “market failure” in the prison and jail telephone market.

All of this will become clearer over the next few months, but that leaves us with the immediate question of what families with loved ones behind bars can expect to pay. That too is complicated, in part because the Court stayed part of the FCC’s regulations.

Some states like Alabama have stricter regulations, and some prisons and jails have negotiated better deals for the families, but under the currently-enforceable federal rules:

  • For both prisons and jails, inter-state calls will continue to be capped at a maximum of $0.21-$0.25/minute for debit/prepaid or collect, respectively. (These are the rate caps that went into effect in February 2014. For now, in-state calls are not subject to rate caps.)

In addition, the abusive hidden fees for both inter-state and in-state calls, which our report Please Deposit All of Your Money: Kickbacks, Rates, and Hidden Fees in the Jail Phone Industry found can easily double the price of a call, are now capped at:

  • Payment by phone or website: $3 (previously up to $10)
  • Payment via live operator: $5.95 (previously up to $10)
  • Paper bills: $2 (previously up to $3.49)
  • Markups and hidden fees embedded within Western Union and MoneyGram payments: $0 (previously up to $6.95)
  • Markups and hidden profits on mandatory taxes and regulatory fees: $0 (We’ve seen these markups and hidden profits on “mandatory” taxes be 25% of the cost of the call)
  • All other ancillary fees: $0. (There are many of these charges. Some of the most egregious ones are $10 fees for refunds, $2.50/month for “network infrastructure” and a 4% charge for “validation”.)

Later, if we are successful in Court and nothing else happens:

  • In-state calls will be capped at $0.21-$0.25/minute, just like interstate calls. (This is particularly important because 92% of calls from prisons and jails are in-state, and because in the absence of regulation, jails are increasing the cost of these calls to up to an exploitative $1.50 a minute.
  • The companies will be prohibited from defying the FCC’s rate caps by steering families to abusive “single call” products like Text2Connect™ and PayNow™ that charge $9.99-$14.99 for a single call.

Stay tuned.


by Bernadette Rabuy, February 7, 2017

Our new report Following the Money of Mass Incarceration looks at the big picture and concludes that the government and families of justice-involved people spend $182 billion each year on mass incarceration and over-criminalization. But for this report we also calculate an important cost hidden within this figure: the cost of locking people up before trial.

This population which has recently grown to be the majority of people in jails, has not been convicted and is legally innocent. Some people were arrested a few hours or days ago and have not been brought before a judge, and others are too poor to afford money bail and must wait for trial.

Animated image showing the growth of the unconvicted population in jails compared to those convicted

On any given day, this country has 451,000 people behind bars who are being detained pretrial. In Following the Money of Mass Incarceration, we put a price tag on how much it costs local governments nationwide: $13.6 billion.

Jail policies matter. There are lots of strategies that individual jurisidictions can adopt to reduce their jail populations. Check out the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge to see community solutions aimed at reducing use of jails and high rates of pretrial detention. And for more on how the poverty of people detained pretrial makes money bail unaffordable and spurs pretrial detention, check out our 2016 report, Detaining the Poor: How money bail perpetuates and endless cycle of poverty and jail time.


by Bernadette Rabuy, February 1, 2017

In a January 2015 report, we discovered that 74% of jails that adopt video visitation go on to ban in-person visits. Fortunately, the movement to protect in-person visits from video technology has continued to grow. Here are some recent developments we wanted to share:

  • New Jersey legislation, A4389, that would protect in-person jail visits and require that video visits cost no more than $0.11/minute unanimously passed the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.
  • An editorial from Maine’s Bangor Daily News called on Maine to follow Texas’ lead and ensure that jails maintain in-person visits, for the benefit of prisoners and their families, and, ultimately, the state.
  • Fifty-two organizations nationwide signed on to support the Video Visitation in Prisons Act introduced by Senator Tammy Duckworth. The Act would require the Federal Communications Commission to regulate video visits. It would also require that the Bureau of Prisons continue to provide in-person visits and only use video technology as a supplement to in-person visitation.

    Additionally, over 40,000 individuals have signed a Care2 petition in support of Senator Duckworth’s Video Visitation in Prisons Act. You can still sign.

Tweet this page Follow @PrisonPolicy on Twitter Get our newsletter Donate Contact Us Now hiring: Policy Director


Events

Nothing scheduled right now. Invite us to to your city, college or organization.