Washington, DC – On October 23, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) submitted a joint letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging action on the “Wright Petition,” which has been pending before the FCC since 2003. The Wright Petition requests that the FCC establish benchmark rates that cap the high cost of interstate phone calls made by prisoners, which range up to $1.15 per minute.
The joint letter, signed by 60 organizations from across the nation, describes problems with the unregulated prison phone industry and highlights the kickback system that drives up the cost of prison telephone calls in most states. It cites an investigative article published by Prison Legal New (a project of the Human Rights Defense Center) in April 2011, which revealed that more than 40 states accept kickbacks from prison phone companies, totaling more than $143 million annually, primarily at the expense of prisoners’ families. On average, 42% of the gross revenue generated by prison phone calls is pocketed by the states as kickbacks from phone companies – euphemistically called “commissions.”
The cost of prison phone calls is mainly paid by prisoners’ family members and other people who are not incarcerated, and exorbitant prison phone rates constitute a form of price gouging by the monopolistic prison phone industry.
According to the joint letter submitted to the FCC, consumers often pay more than $17.00 for a 15-minute prison phone call. In many cases it costs more to accept a collect call from a prisoner in another state than it does to place a call to China.
In its joint letter the HRDC addresses the fallacy claimed by prison phone companies, such as Global Tel*Link, Securus and CenturyLink, that the cost of prison phone calls is driven up by unique security features required for the calls. The reality is different; for example, in New York, a state that has banned kickbacks, prisoners and their families pay less than $.05 per minute for local, intrastate and interstate calls. These reasonable phone rates do not come at the expense of security features required by corrections officials, which are included in the cost.
“It is long past time that the FCC take action to end this exploitive gouging of consumers who pay for prison phone calls,” said HRDC Executive Director Paul Wright. “The Wright Petition has been pending for nine years while the FCC has done nothing, proving the axiom that justice delayed is justice denied.” The Wright Petition was filed by Martha Wright, an 87-year-old grandmother who accepted expensive phone calls from her incarcerated grandson.
The 60 organizations that signed the joint letter to the FCC include the American Friends Service Committee, Correctional Association of New York, National CURE, Southern Center for Human Rights, Justice Policy Institute, Prison Policy Initiative and The Sentencing Project. HRDC, the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) and Working Narratives jointly coordinate the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, which advocates for lower prison phone rates. For more information on the campaign: www.phonejustice.org and www.prisonphonejustice.org.
The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.
For further information, please contact:
Paul Wright, Executive Director
Human Rights Defense Center