Sheriff Ashe fought FCC on move to control outsized phone charges at jail

It amounted to a burden on families who could ill afford it. Steep charges, fees through the nose, even outright theft were all baked into the deal.

Yet Prison Policy Initiative Executive Director Peter Wagner got nothing but hostility from Hampden County Sheriff’s Department when he implored the department to amend its former inmate phone service contract with third-party provider GlobalTel Link.

Under the terms, an inmate’s 15-minute call to a family member or friend could cost up to $17 dollars, with 74 percent of that going back to the jail as a “commission.”…

San Mateo County Sued Over High Jail Phone Rates

SAN MATEO COUNTY, CA — Three more Bay Area counties are facing class action lawsuits for the cost of phone calls to and from jails, an expensive process that critics argue unfairly burdens inmates’ families by making them pay excessive fees to keep in touch with loved ones.

A group of attorneys who have already filed several lawsuits on the matter in Southern California filed their fourth lawsuit in the Bay Area this week. The attorneys first sued San Mateo County on Aug. 8, then filed suits in federal court against Santa Clara County on Thursday, Contra Costa County on Friday and Alameda County on Monday…

Federal agency plans to cap the cost of inmate telephone calls

The Federal Communications Commission earlier this month set new caps for local and long-distance phone calls to and from jail inmates that are expected to take effect next year in county jails, and although the Washington County jail warden said his facility is in compliance, it’s an issue that the county prison board took action on Wednesday.

At the request of Warden Edward Strawn, the prison board extended the county’s contract for inmate telephone services with GTL, GlobalTel Link, on a month-to-month basis to allow other providers to respond to a request for proposals.

“They put a maximum on that,” Strawn said before the prison board convened. “Some other facilities’ phone companies had too-high rates for inmates’ families. We weren’t one of those. It really didn’t affect us at all.”…

No Way to Call Home: Incarcerated Deaf People Are Locked in a Prison Inside a Prison

Silent Voices is truly silent. The group’s three members are doing what looks like a dance in the front of a classroom at a state prison near the banks of the Mississippi River, just south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, performing their version of the song “I Believe” by R. Kelly. Instead of singing, the performers are interpreting R. Kelly’s lyrics into American Sign Language, or ASL, the sign language most commonly used in the United States. ASL is an animated language. Gestures, facial expressions and even foot-stomping the floor to a beat allow ASL speakers to add context, detail and music to their conversations. The three men in Silent Voices are stunning in this way. The performance is part ASL, part gospel choreography and it’s contagiously uplifting — in stark contrast with the backdrop of armed guards and barbed wire. The classroom erupts into applause.

Standing at the back of the classroom, Susan Griffin is beaming with pride. Griffin, a lead attorney for the state prison system, says this song is a real crowd pleaser at the gospel revivals held at Angola, the notoriously brutal prison farm to the north. “For me, it brings everything together,” she says.

The members of Silent Voices and a dozen or so classmates are all part of the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ ASL interpreting program, which Griffin touts as one of a kind, at least in the US. Qualified prisoners can earn a certificate in ASL interpreting, which could potentially lead to job opportunities if they are released. Louisiana also uses these “offender interpreters” to interpret for the deaf population in its vast prison system…

Could Rip-Off Phone Prices for Prison Inmates Be Coming to an End?

In the fall of 2015, the Federal Communications Commission voted to put a cap on the rates for all prison calls and ban the majority of add-on fees that had been imposed on the calls. The decision was a great victory for the families of inmates and criminal justice activists, who had been pushing for the rates to be eased for years.

Phone calls are a lucrative market for prison profiteers, as corporations arbitrarily assign ludicrous prices for communication. People often pay between $400 and $500 a month to speak with family members behind bars. On top of that, consistent fees (for charges like “maintenance”) can increase the costs of calls by up to 40 percent…

FCC partially relieves state, local agencies from federal regulations for inmate calling systems

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has announced the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in response to his lawsuit, has issued an order that will save the state millions of dollars by partially relieving state and local agencies from federal regulations that Pruitt believes are unlawful.

The FCC had attempted to regulate the telephone rates charged to inmates for intrastate calls from prisons and county jails. Current federal law dictates that the FCC can only regulate interstate calls, however. According to Pruitt, the FCC ignored this limitation and issued rate caps for instate inmate calls…

FCC increases rate caps for prison phone calls; HRDC quoted

GTL Says FCC Order ‘Did Nothing’ to Resolve ICS Dispute; Hamden Disappointed

 

Global Tel*Link said the FCC’s inmate calling service rate cap increases fail to achieve a lasting solution, and an advocate for inmate families also was critical. But other advocates said the new rate caps would expedite relief for inmate families, given ongoing litigation that blocked ICS rate caps of 11-22 cents per minute in a 2015 agency order. Commissioners Thursday voted 3-2 to approve an order to raise the ICS rate caps to 13-31 cents per minute to account for correctional facility costs (see 1608040037).

“The FCC’s latest ICS regulation of the [ICS] marketplace, though well intentioned, continues the Commission’s unfortunate history of arbitrarily defining rate caps that do not adequately account for the true costs of administering ICS service,” emailed GTL CEO Brian Oliver Friday. “Comprehensive ICS reform must take into account the positions of all stakeholders and the information that they have submitted… Yesterday’s FCC Open Meeting did nothing to move us forward to the ultimate goal of achieving a comprehensive solution to establish lasting and just regulations in the ICS marketplace.”

Criminal defense attorney Michael Hamden said he was disappointed the FCC didn’t address “the underlying dysfunction” in the ICS market, though he appreciated concerns expressed by commissioners about the situation. “Site commission payments will likely continue to drive the exorbitant cost of ICS higher,” emailed Hamden, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, whose petition for reconsideration the FCC cited as helping spark the new order. “That pay-to-play monopoly scheme will be permitted to further exploit prisoners and their families, making it even more difficult for prisoners to maintain ties and reintegrate into their communities.”

The agency seems to be believe it lacks the authority to regulate site commissions, Hamden said, but believes accounting for ICS administrative costs will shore up the rules from its 2015 order. That order’s rate caps were stayed in court pending further review of legal challenges from industry, states and sheriff groups. “However, the Commission earlier concluded that site commissions are not a legitimate cost in the delivery of ICS, and there are no reliable facility cost data in the record,” he emailed. “It is unclear how the administration of ICS services differs from other services correctional authorities must provide without compensation. (For example, there is no fee for the delivery of mail to a prisoner.)” He said it’s unclear if the latest action would improve the agency’s litigation position.

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) trained its fire on ICS providers that have “preyed upon” prisoner families and challenged the FCC’s previous rules in court, securing the court stay of the rate caps. “Not only did the new rate caps not go into effect, but at least one ICS provider—Securus—has increased the rates for in-state calls to ‘offset fees that have been eliminated or reduced,’” said an HRDC statement. Securus didn’t comment Friday.

The FCC vote “set rates higher than the initial caps, [but] the FCC’s action should bring much needed rate relief to families more quickly than waiting for the appeal process to conclude,” said HRDC Executive Director Paul Wright. “This action was the direct result of the relentless greed of ICS providers and the government agencies that run detention facilities.” The Wright Petitioners Thursday welcomed the FCC action as expediting regulatory relief for inmates and their families.

HRDC said even the FCC’s previous lower rate caps are higher than rates charged in a number of state prison systems. It said at least nine states have rates [at or] below 5 cents per minute: West Virginia, Virginia, New Mexico, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, Minnesota and Ohio. “We would have preferred to see the rate caps lowered rather than increased,” said HRDC Associate Director Alex Friedmann. — David Kaut

**Reprinted with consent and approval of Warren Communications News, www.warren-news.com**

GTL Will Oppose FCC Order On Reconsideration for Interstate ICS Phone Call Rates

RESTON, Va., Aug. 11, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — GTL, the leading provider of correctional technology solutions and an innovator in payment services solutions for government, today announced its intention to oppose new rate caps contained in the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Order on Reconsideration (Order) issued August 9th.

GTL believes the FCC has set rate caps at levels that fail to account for the costs of administering inmate calling services (ICS) in our nation’s prisons and jails, and that the agency has exceeded its jurisdiction by preempting state, county and municipal authorities on issues of rate making and correctional security, without clear authority to do so.

“Although the FCC should be applauded for finally recognizing that correctional facilities do, in fact, incur costs through the administration of ICS, they missed the mark with their latest attempt at piecemeal ICS reform,” said Brian Oliver, CEO of GTL. “Recognition of these costs is a small step towards a meaningful, comprehensive solution, but arbitrarily specifying those costs and ignoring state and local jurisdiction to manage rates and correctional security is not the right approach.”

“It’s clear that the agency’s leadership is itself divided on these issues, and all parties have been seeking guidance from the courts on the questions of pricing and jurisdiction for nearly three years,” said Oliver. “It is time for the FCC to stop changing the rules, to allow the courts to resolve these fundamental issues and end the uncertainty.”

Prison Tech Co. Promises FCC Rate Caps Challenge

Law360, Washington (August 11, 2016, 3:39 PM ET) — A prison technology provider revealed its plans Thursday to file a legal challenge to the newly raised Federal Communications Commission rate caps on inmate phone calls, saying the caps are still too low.

GTL, or Global Tel Link, accused the FCC of failing to account for the administrative costs of providing inmate calling services in its Aug. 4 party-line vote and subsequent order to slightly bump up the charge caps while approving a change to account for how much it costs facilities to provide the services….