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UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "prison phone"

Just Rates for Incarcerated Communications

Today a group of almost 80 organizations wrote to Senators McConnell, Schumer, Wicker and Cantwell to request that the Senate include the COVID-19 Compassion and Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice provisions, H.R. 6800, §§130701-03, in the next COVID-19 package enacted into law. Those provisions would: 1) immediately reduce rates for voice calls, capping the cost of all calls at $0.04 per minute for prepaid calls and $0.05 per minute for collect calls, 2) end site commission payments between phone companies and correctional agencies; and 3) clearly establish the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) jurisdiction to limit predatory rates for local, intrastate communications as well as fees of all kinds.

Cheryl A. Leanza, OC Inc.'s policy advisor said, "In a time when our country is focused on the importance of affordable communication during a pandemic, the value of Black Lives, and the systemic flaws in our criminal justice system, it just makes sense for Congress to ensure that no one can be charged predatory rates to talk to their loved ones in prison, jail or detention. The Christian tradition teaches us that incarcerated people are worthy of dignity and respect in every way--whether it is the right to fair treatment inside, support reintegrating into society or the ability to speak to a child without sacrificing economic security. The time for Congress to act is now."

The letter and petitions with a total of 75,000 signatures were discussed at a press conference on August 11, 2020. A recording of the press conference is available here.

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Categories: prison phone

Prison phone justice needs Congress, FCC Action Welcome

The helpful, but limited, action today by the Federal Communications Commission with respect to the predatory costs of communication between incarcerated people and their loved ones demonstrates the need for federal legislation to address this issue. As has been widely documented, including most recently by the FCC, the costs of calling incarcerated people are "egregiously high." People are sometimes paying almost $25 for a 15-minute call. Further, as the FCC explains, the vote today will address only 20 percent of relevant calls. Congressional action is needed so that the FCC can address the remaining 80 percent.


Nonetheless, the FCC today is appropriately voting to reassert its authority over almost all fees, because it is impossible to distinguish between fees related to in-state calls or calls between states. In addition, the FCC is initiating a proceeding to propose lower rates for the 20 percent of calls over which it has jurisdiction. Cheryl A. Leanza, the UCC's policy advisor stated, "The vote at the is a welcome redirection under the present FCC." Ms. Leanza explained, "Our conversations with the FCC about the Further Notice were productive and we look forward to actively participating in a wide-ranging proceeding. The additional questions will enable the FCC to move more quickly to make changes in the future. But it is unfortunate that this vote took so long given that the initial remand from federal court occurred three years ago."


In addition, Ms. Leanza noted, "because the FCC's analysis concluded GTL misrepresented its costs to the Commission and the record showed that Securus is imposing fees not permitted by the FCC's rules, I hope to see the FCC move quickly to take enforcement action against those companies."

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Categories: prison phone

HEROES Act a Victory for the Right2Connect!

The new HEROES Act released today, H.R. 6800, contains an incredible commitment to the communications rights of all people. The consumer protection and telecommunications provisions championed by Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Pallone recognize that the right of all people in the U.S. to connect with each other during the novel coronavirus pandemic is not only a matter of mental health and economic survival, it is a matter of life and death. 

If all people, including low-income people, can afford high quality broadband, their lives can continue, to some degree, through personal connections, education, jobs, obtaining access to emergency benefits while they shelter in place to stop the spread of the virus.  If frontline low-income workers can rely on their mobile phones, they can fill grocery orders, keep our hospitals clean and continue to act as our emergency responders in this time of need.  If families can reach their incarcerated loved ones at fair rates, they can monitor their health and welfare and ensure they receive access to essential care given the horrific spread of COVID-19 among people in jail, prison or detention.  The HERO Act's communications provisions are essential for meeting these emergency needs. 


These proposals, combined with provisions that end cut-offs of Internet services, codify the Federal Communications Commission Keep Americans Connected Pledge and establish limits on price gouging make this legislation an impressive package that will establish secure rights to affordable communications. Congress should move quickly to adopt them into law.


"Congress should move quickly to adopt the communications provisions of the HEROES Act into law," said Cheryl A. Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor, "being without the Internet right now is not just a digital divide, it is a digital chasm and life and death hangs in the balance. If adopted, these proposals would ensure that all people, no matter their income level or status will have the digital tools they need to participate safely in civic and economic life."


To read more about the #right2connect, see The Right to Connect: Life or Death Right Now.

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Strong Prison Phone Legislation Introduced by Rep. Rush

The United Church of Christ's media justice ministry is very pleased to see long-time champion Representative Bobby Rush's new legislation addressing the predatory costs of communicating with incarcerated people, the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act, H.R. 6389. Mr. Rush has been a leader on this issue since the 2000s. His new legislation immediately sets significantly improved rates for voice calls and clearly establishes federal jurisdiction to limit predatory rates for local, intra-state communications as well as fees of all kinds. It is future-proof, leaving no technological loopholes. It will enable the Federal Communications Commission to pick up where it left off and protect families, clergy, and loved ones from unjust and unreasonable rates. 


"Congratulations to Representative Rush. We urge the House Energy & Commerce Committee to quickly hold hearings and move to markup on this critical legislation," said Earl Williams, OC Inc.'s board chair. "This bill, along with Senator Duckworth's bi-partisan bill in the Senate, increases the hope of incarcerated people and their families that they will finally gain the same consumer protections as all people in the U.S."


Cheryl A. Leanza, OC Inc.'s policy advisor said, "In this time when so many families, clergy and friends are not permitted to visit their incarcerated loved ones during the COVID-19 epidemic, just and reasonable rates to communicate are more important than ever. Incarcerated people are facing crowded conditions and potentially insufficient health care. Without communication with the outside, it is impossible to monitor their safety."

UCC's media justice ministry is also currently encouraging everyone to join the MediaJustice campaign to ask the Federal Communications Commission to act immediately to secure relief for incarcerated people and their families.

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Categories: prison phone

Predatory Inmate Calling Rates

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Categories: prison phone

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