CIVIC is hosting a nationwide conference call on Tuesday November 13th at 3pm PST/ 5pm CST/ 6pm EST about how you can help end the isolation of detained immigrants and lower the phone call rates for men and women in immigration detention. If you are not already on CIVIC’s mailing list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to join this call!
November 8 – Today, CIVIC along with 109 other immigrant rights groups as well as academic and legal professionals called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to act promptly on the Martha Wright Petition by establishing reasonable benchmark rates for interstate phone calls made from correctional facilities, including those that hold immigrants in detention.
Since 2003, the FCC has deferred taking action on the Wright Petition, despite the efforts of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, spearheaded by the Human Rights Defense Center, the Center for Media Justice, and Working Narratives. The Campaign seeks to end the monopoly phone system and kickbacks paid to prisons and jails in order to significantly reduce phone rates. Today, CIVIC joins forces with prisoners’ rights advocates to support the Wright Petition.
The struggle for the Wright Petition began in 2000 when plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit against Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and several prison phone companies over the high cost of phone calls for individuals in prison and their families. Wright v. CCA. The suit alleged that prison phone contracts violate federal anti-trust law as well as the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to speech and association, their rights to foster and maintain family relations under the First and Fourteenth Amendments; their rights to due process and equal protection of law under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; and their right to unimpaired freedom of contract under Article 1. The federal district court referred the case to the FCC.
After years of inaction by the FCC, the plaintiffs of the original lawsuit and the authors of the current petition for rulemaking with the FCC have shifted their strategy for ensuring affordable phone rates for prisoners and their families. They now call on the FCC to impose price caps or benchmark rates of $0.20 – $0.25 per minute for interstate calls, according to Drew Kukorowski of the Prison Policy Initiative.
The Wright Petition, named after original plaintiff Martha Wright, has invited the support of immigrant rights organizations that are concerned about the prohibitive cost of phone calls for immigrants in detention. Prisoners in the criminal justice system and immigrants detained in civil immigration detention are subject to similar unregulated and predatory calling rates. The exorbitant cost of phone calls is the result of lucrative and monopolistic contracts between prison phone companies and the prisons, detention centers, and county jails with which they contract.
According to an exhaustive analysis of state prison phone contracts across the United States by Prison Legal News, telephone service providers offer lucrative kickbacks (politely termed “commissions”) to state contracting agencies in order to obtain exclusive, monopolistic contracts for their services. These kickbacks are paid to the state prison system by charging an exorbitant rate to prisoners and their families–42% of gross revenues from prisoners’ phone calls are “kicked back.” It is estimated that the phone market in state prison systems is worth more than $362 million annually in gross revenue.
However, this is only the tip of the profit iceberg. This calculation does not include the 250 county jails and private detention centers across the country that contract to hold immigrants who are detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). County jails and private detention centers (including ones owned by CCA) profit in the same way as state prisons, by entering into exclusive phone service contracts with phone corporations, like Global Tell Link, that charge the families of immigrants who are detained exorbitant phone rates to cover the cost of kickbacks that enrich the very institution that imprisons their loved one.
CIVIC believes this system of forced isolation is extremely oppressive and unethical. CIVIC and its affiliated community visitation programs receive calls everyday from families who are unable to receive phone calls from their loved ones in immigration detention due to the exorbitant phone rates. As immigrants are often detained miles away from their loved ones, visitor volunteers are often the only link between those in detention and their families on the outside. CIVIC firmly supports the Wright Petition, which will make it easier for immigrants in detention to call their loved ones located miles away in another state.
CIVIC also recognizes that the Wright Petition will not lower phone rates for immigrants in detention who are making calls within state. Currently, only eight states and the District of Columbus have outlawed state prison phone kickbacks: California, New Mexico, Nebraska, Missouri, Michigan, Rhode Island, New York, and South Carolina. However, these states still permit county jails and private prison to accept kickbacks. As immigrants are detained in county jails and private prisons, CIVIC also urges states to prevent telephone service providers from offering lucrative kickbacks to any county jail or private prison.
As explained thoroughly in the joint letter of support for the Wright Petition submitted today to the FCC, the predatory phone rates charged to immigrants in detention are a violation of ICE’s 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS), which state, “Detainees shall have reasonable and equitable access to reasonably priced telephone services” and “Contracts for such services shall comply with all applicable state and federal regulations and be based on rates and surcharges comparable to those charged to the general public.” Unfortunately, ICE’s 2001 PBNDS lack the teeth necessary to ensure compliance, as they are not legally binding or enforceable. This leaves it up to the FCC and state governments to regulate the predatory phone systems in immigration detention centers and county jails that enforce isolation and tear families apart.
To learn more about how you can help end the isolation of detained immigrants and lower the phone call rates for men and women in immigration detention, please join CIVIC on Tuesday November 13th at 3pm PST/ 5pm CST/ 6pm EST for a conference call addressing the Martha Wright Petition. Drew Kukorowski of the Prison Policy Initiative will join us. Drew recently wrote a report entitled, The Price to Call Home: State Sanctioned Monopolization in the Prison Phone Industry. Email email@example.com to receive the call-in information.