FCC rules on prison telecommunications
August 9, 2013 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Today, a decade after Martha Wright-Reed, now 87, became the lead signatory in a class-action protest petition that asked the Federal Communications Commission to regulate usurious prison telecommunications systems, that body has issued an order to lower prison phone rates immediately, "basing them on actual costs and cap[ping] them at 25 cents per minute while the Commission collects more data." A fifteen-minute call will now cost no more than $3.25, down from figures as high as $20. Martha Wright's grandson, imprisoned for manslaughter in 1994, was paroled in June 2012.
posted by liketitanic (25 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
This news almost made me cry.
posted by liketitanic at 1:44 PM on August 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


This news is great start. One issue I have with Orange is the New Black is the apparent massive access to phones with no apparent sign-in or card-in to make the calls at all. In federal prison [also background to the case] you can use a debit card, and costs are much lower in that system.
posted by tilde at 1:50 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is great. Although isn't it a sad reflection on the casual brutality of the US prison system that a simple step like this is so hard-won?
posted by yoink at 1:51 PM on August 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


This is also reflective of another large, obscure, systemic problem: there is very little oversight in government contracting at all levels to be sure that the same companies that benefit from our tax dollars aren't turning around and fucking us on the other end. The telecom industry as a whole is a glaring example.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:54 PM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


And yet one guy at the FCC, Ajit Pai, thinks the existing situation is acceptable and voted against doing this. What a douche bag.
posted by mss at 2:09 PM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fuck yeah!

This will have immediate and wonderful effects for a lot of the guys I work with and I'm actually fighting tears thinking about it.

Maybe next we can raise their salaries above $1.05/day, so they can afford more than a four minute call?

Fuck yeah....
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:15 PM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Long overdue . . .
posted by flug at 3:02 PM on August 9, 2013


Long, long overdue. One the more insane and brutal ways that (overwhelmingly) poor people get screwed over.
posted by aerotive at 3:03 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the update. The maps and graphics at the Colorlines article are well-done.
posted by larrybob at 3:06 PM on August 9, 2013


I have a friend on Twitter who regularly tweets about how expensive it is to call someone she knows that is currently incarcerated. It is rididonkulous. Glad to see the change, if only for her sake.
posted by Kitteh at 3:29 PM on August 9, 2013


Wow. That's progress, but $.25 cents/minute is still crazy high given prison labor pay and costs for other necessities. Prepaid cellular plans are available for far less for those of us not incarcerated. That this took over a decade to get any action is deplorable.
posted by zachlipton at 4:07 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is also reflective of another large, obscure, systemic problem: there is very little oversight in government contracting at all levels to be sure that the same companies that benefit from our tax dollars aren't turning around and fucking us on the other end. The telecom industry as a whole is a glaring example.

I think that's true. I think contracting with private companies to manage federal student loans is another example of that. But also, this wasn't "fucking us" all in the same way. It was largely fucking over low income women and children of color. If anything, it--as the current prison system writ large does--was/is benefiting "us" and benefiting a regime of white supremacy.
posted by liketitanic at 4:50 PM on August 9, 2013


Also, don't even get me started on commissary prices.
posted by liketitanic at 4:51 PM on August 9, 2013


I just don't know how to disabuse people of the "if they didn't want to be exploited and dehumanized, they shouldn't have committed a crime" mentality that short circuits everyone's empathy and humanity.
posted by absalom at 5:17 PM on August 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


absalom: I think Orange is the New Black is good for this: people remember that when they were in college, they did some drugs and maybe got close with a dealer, and suddenly they're forced to imagine themselves as incarcerable. It's hamfisted and largely inaccurate, but it works.

On the larger question, I just don't know how to get people how stop seeing humanity as a privileged club for people who look like them, but if anyone has any ideas I'd really appreciate it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:25 PM on August 9, 2013


absalom: I think Orange is the New Black is good for this: people remember that when they were in college, they did some drugs and maybe got close with a dealer, and suddenly they're forced to imagine themselves as incarcerable.

Except they don't really have to, because the reality is that what happened to Piper Kerman reaaaalllly doesn't happen to white people most of the time (even leaving aside the fact that she got close with a major trafficker, not just a dealer). It's more like a reminder of how effective white privilege is.* It's a very safe fantasy that also fetishizes prison and sexual relationships between incarcerated women.

*From that link: "5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites."
posted by liketitanic at 5:33 PM on August 9, 2013


absalom: I just don't know how to disabuse people of the "if they didn't want to be exploited and dehumanized, they shouldn't have committed a crime" mentality that short circuits everyone's empathy and humanity.

I think the best route might be combining "Prison is really, really expensive" with "Dehumanizing and exploiting prisoners just ensures they will end up back in prison". The cost of prison is fairly shocking - I think putting one person in prison wipes out the combined tax revenue of 2-5 middle class people. So pragmatism might win where compassion has failed.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:38 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


> AND we also know that incarcerated people have mostly not even finished high school--something like 68% of state inmates don't even have GEDs. So this college-educated viewer projecting themselves into this situation is just not based in reality--and people know that.
posted by liketitanic at 5:41 PM on August 9, 2013


What a despicable way to make money.
posted by klue at 6:32 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you're missing the point: it's not that the show is accurate, but that only an inaccurate story can propel the empathy needed. I think that's a terrible fact about human beings and their in-group racial bias, but it does seem to work.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:32 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just don't know how to disabuse people of the "if they didn't want to be exploited and dehumanized, they shouldn't have committed a crime" mentality that short circuits everyone's empathy and humanity.

I think it is actually a subtlety that some people just can't comprehend or articulate. Yes, it is jail and if you want to retain the freedom to make a bunch of phone calls for low, low prices, you should probably avoid jail. On the other hand, that's no reason to exploit people. I'm glad they are working on making jail/prison more humane, but the correcting the price of phone calls seems like the very least they can do. Call me when they start working on protecting inmates from being victims of crimes perpetrated by other inmates and guards.
posted by gjc at 3:32 AM on August 10, 2013


*From that link: "5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites."

I am not denying that there is a race problem in the US, but that quote uses a tricky maneuver to make things look far worse than they are. They are comparing a rate to a gross number. Yes, perhaps 5 times as many white people use drugs, but there are almost 6 times as many white people in the US. "Black people are incarcerated at a rate [any] times greater than white people for the same crimes" is just as horrifying, and it would be more true.

(If that is true. Again, not denying there is a problem, but I just wonder what the particulars are; whether they really are the same crimes or not.)

Why the need to exaggerate and distort, when the truth is bad enough?
posted by gjc at 3:49 AM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's progress, but $.25 cents/minute is still crazy high given prison labor pay and costs for other necessities.

"Today’s order requires phone companies to base rates on actual costs and cap them at 25 cents per minute..." so it doesn't appear a company can automatically charge the maximum if they can't' show it's based on actual cost.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 9:11 AM on August 10, 2013


Is there a law or rule that says that inmates have to have access to phones for calls not to their lawyers?
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 2:16 PM on August 10, 2013


Naturally, it varies by state and locality.
posted by absalom at 10:06 AM on August 11, 2013


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