Timeline: The 18-year battle for prison phone justice
Journalists and others often ask about how the movement for phone justice began and why this is taking so long. Here are the key dates:
- Martha Wright, a grandmother who was struggling to afford calls to her incarcerated grandson, sues a private prison company over the contracts it has with various phone companies.
- Federal Court grants motions by private prison company and telephone companies to refer the case to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
- For nearly 10 years, the Federal Communications Commission takes no visible action.
- The Federal Communications Commission files a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the Wright Petition.
- The Federal Communications Commission votes 2-1 to approve new regulations that set interstate rate caps of 21 cents a minute for debit and pre-paid calls and 25 cents a minute for collect calls. The one dissenting vote is from FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who previously represented prison phone giant Securus in private practice.
- Despite legal challenges from prison phone companies, the FCC’s new rate caps go into effect in February.
- In October, the FCC issues additional regulations, lowering the cost for all calls from prisons (out-of-state and in-state) to 11 cents a minute, and lowering the cost of calls from jails at 14 to 22 cents a minute depending on the size of the institution. The FCC also approves comprehensive reform and caps on the cost of “ancillary fees” that can double the cost of a call. Again, Commissioner Pai voted against these regulations. Many of the phone companies, several state prison systems, county jail systems, and sheriff associations file suit challenging the FCC’s order.
- The federal courts issues a partial stay of the Federal Communications Commission’s October 2015 regulations, preventing the new rate caps from taking effect. The new regulations on fees, however, go into effect. The lawsuit moves very slowly.
- In January, Donald Trump appoints FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai the Chairman of the FCC. In February, Pai, who had twice voted against regulating the industry, announces that the FCC will stop defending its in-state rate caps in court. However, the FCC does consent to 6 advocacy organizations, including the Prison Policy Initiative, defending that part of the lawsuit as intervenor-defendants. In June, despite this effort, the federal court strikes down the FCC’s 2015 rate caps. The 2013 rate caps, and the 2015 fee caps, remain in place.
For more on the struggle for phone justice, see our campaign page.