AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Court rules feds can't stop massive charges for many prison phone calls

A federal appeals court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission lacks the authority to block phone companies from charging as much as $14 for a one-minute phone call on in-state prison phone calls, according to a recent report.

Advocates for inmates have complained for more than a decade that a handful of private phone companies charge such high fees that the cost of calls can add up to thousands of dollars in a single year. Inmates' families typically foot these bills.

From the story:

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found Tuesday that the Federal Communication Commission lacked authority to set rates for calls between inmates and people in the same state.

Companies that provide prison phone service have defended their prices and sued to stop the 2015 FCC rules . The in-state rate caps, intended to stop high charges between inmates and people in the same state, were suspended by earlier court decisions and never went into effect. The FCC does regulate the price of out-of-state calls for prisoners.

State prison systems often get a cut of the profits. In Georgia, that amount is 60 percent, bringing the typical cost of a three-minute call to $2.55, according to the Human Rights Defense Center, which advocates for inmates in U.S. prisons.

The FCC is allowed to cap prices on prison phone calls between states.

The FCC sought to curb the costs of prison phone calls in 2016, but the Trump administration has since dropped the effort, according to the report from the Associated Press.

In August 2016, the FCC proposed capping both out-of-state and in-state call rates at a range of 13 to 31 cents per minute. The FCC had said that would reduce the price of an average 15-minute call for most inmates by about 35 percent.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Tuesday in a statement that he plans to work on the problem of high prices of prison calls "in a lawful manner." The agency dropped its defense of the in-state caps after Pai was appointed by President Donald Trump.


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