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Court Stops FCC's Latest Attempt To Lower Prison Phone Rates (arstechnica.com) 197

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Prison phone companies have convinced a court to halt new rate caps on inmate calling for the second time this month. The first stay was issued March 7 and prevented the FCC from implementing new rate caps of 11 cents to 22 cents per minute on both interstate and intrastate calls from prisons. But the stay -- which remains in place while the prison phone companies' lawsuit against the FCC is still pending -- did not disturb an earlier "interim" cap of 21 cents to 25 cents per minute that applied only to interstate calls, those that cross state lines. The order also didn't specifically object to the FCC changing its definition of "inmate calling service" to include both interstate and intrastate calls. Seizing on this ambiguity, the FCC decided that it could impose the interim caps on both interstate and intrastate calls. But prison phone companies Securus Technologies, Global Tel Link (GTL), and Telmate all asked the federal appeals court to stop the caps from being applied to intrastate calls. A court order issued Wednesday sided with the prison phone companies, saying that "petitioners have satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review." As a result, the interim rate caps will still apply only to interstate calls.
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Court Stops FCC's Latest Attempt To Lower Prison Phone Rates

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    They're allowed access to their finances? Does this create a rift in equality? Why don't they just get an allotment of minutes?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 27, 2016 @07:19PM (#51789189)

      Because the for-profit prison industry wouldn't make as much money that way.

    • by Luthair ( 847766 )
      They probably work for 10-cents an hour making license plates...
    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday March 27, 2016 @07:57PM (#51789319)

      They're allowed access to their finances?

      They are often able to call collect. When my brother was in prison (for assaulting a police officer) he called me collect several times. Inmates are usually able to work in prison industries for pay. Some prisons do manufacturing. My brother learned how to operate a metal lathe and vertical mill while doing time. Some prisons even run call centers.

      Does this create a rift in equality?

      Prison is already very unequal.

      Why don't they just get an allotment of minutes?

      Then the prison has no incentive to keep the phone system operational, and the inmates will have less incentive to work.

      • by guises ( 2423402 ) on Sunday March 27, 2016 @11:26PM (#51790225)

        Then the prison has no incentive to keep the phone system operational, and the inmates will have less incentive to work.

        Okay, this is just bullshit. They don't need extra "incentive" to keep the prison operational, that's their job. And dangling basics in front of prisoners and calling it "incentive to work" is just slavery by a different name. It's fine for prisoners to learn a trade, it helps a great deal with recidivism, but it's not something that you can force on a person.

        Not to mention that most of those prison industries aren't about teaching a trade at all, they're mostly just about the slave labor.

        • And dangling basics in front of prisoners and calling it "incentive to work" is just slavery by a different name.

          "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains! [wikipedia.org]"

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 )

          Absolutely, in this day and age of free phone calls via skype over the internet, it would be trivial to allow skype calls for nearly free to home.

          $120 a month for a couple internet lines and a couple cheap tablets hard wired to only skype and watched over by guards.

          Our prison industry is sick. We have the highest rate of incarceration in the free world (and actually higher than most of the unfree world too).

          It's sickening.

          The prison industry pays (lots of) money to
          a) criminalize activites that were not ill

          • by johanw ( 1001493 )

            "We have the highest rate of incarceration in the free world"

            Free world? The US is one of the more unfree countries in this world. This is one of the issues that makes the US unfree. Except when you have lost of money of course, but that holds for most countries.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 27, 2016 @08:50PM (#51789565)

      Replying anonymously because I'm modding in this thread.

      For my friend behind bars, she relies on friends to add money to her account through JPay, a convenient service that takes another 5-10% or more off the top whenever you deposit into the inmate's account.

      Until my friend was imprisoned, I had NO IDEA how pervasive rent-seeking and profiteering was in the prison system. It really is a nightmare.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by KGIII ( 973947 )

        > Replying anonymously because I'm modding in this thread.

        There's a reason why one doesn't post in threads they moderate. They list this reason - as I recall. (I stopped moderating a long time ago. I'd rather speak than decide what others should or should not read.) At any rate, they designed the system that way for a reason - I'd like to think it's a valid reason. Disrupting the game, by changing the rules, just seems low. I lack a better word. Low, lowly, pathetic? They all work.

        If you don't like the r

        • I mean, the system is expressly designed so that one is allowed to post anonymously and not lose mod status on a post, so I'm not sure it's so underhanded. Personally, I do think that's enough of a barrier so as to prevent the negative outcomes of being able to moderate and be moderated in the same thread (aka the Reddit Effect). Anyways, their droplet of insight was appreciated, so I'm okay with it. All that being said, I do applaud your vigilance.
          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            Just like I said to the other one, that's like justifying taking a cookie from the cookie jar because someone was naive enough to leave it unguarded or not cynical enough to distrust the "honor system." Sheesh...

            It's like cheating at "Old Maid." Against a kid. While you're the adult.

            Well, maybe not that bad but still... You get the idea. Or not. Maybe not.

            • There's no reason to think that the powers that be want people to not post anonymously in threads they've moderated. The idea is simply to not give people their automatic +2 score visibility in threads they've moderated. If you want to post as an AC with a 0 score, then that's good, and you'll be modded up if your post is worth seeing.

              • It doesn't work. Many people browse at +1 so they never see AC posts at all; you might as well not post AC because it just won't be seen.

                I have a simple solution for this vexing problem: I simply never moderate. The system is bullshit. SoylentNews fixed the problem, easily, ages and ages ago, using Slashdot's own code. You can't moderate in a *thread* you posted in, but you can still moderate and participate in an overall discussion simultaneously. Since every article's discussion can easily have dozen

          • The fix to this may be to stop paying attention to ACs. After all, they are cowards.

            Save for those who moderate and then post anonymously. They are cheats. You can figure out why that was frowned upon, and why it's impossible to stop.

        • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

          If you slammed a steel bar through your skull, you wouldn't care so much about the posting habits of others. And, if I should happen to be wrong about that, it's OK, because you'd be dead. It's a win for society either way!

        • Hi, you must be new here.

          As per the Moderation page, the goals of moderation are:

          1. Promote Quality, Discourage Crap
          2. Make Slashdot as readable as possible for as many people as possible.
          3. Do not require a huge amount of time from any single moderator.
          4. Do not allow a single moderator a 'reign of terror'

          GP's anonymous post was clearly within those goals while, ironically, ours are driving the discussion off-topic.

      • They then split that 5-10% with the prison administration.
        See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06... [nytimes.com]

    • by SumDog ( 466607 ) on Sunday March 27, 2016 @09:31PM (#51789781) Homepage Journal

      They get some money from their families. There are limits on what they can give inmates. They can also earn money from working in programs. American Flags are made in women's low security correctional facilities where they are paid $2 an hour.

      Prison is the only form of slavery explicitly allowed by the US constitution. But it's not the only form of slavery. The other is a form of voluntary indentured servitude. It's called the military.

      • Two dollars an hour is the rarefied elite of pay ranges. The Unicor factory jobs which pay that much have waiting lists of more than a year to get into one.

      • I don't know that I agree with equating prison with slavery?

        First off, if you're paid *anything* as compensation for doing a job, it's not slavery anymore, by definition. Second, I'm not sure that prison has a requirement of doing these jobs? It sounds to me like they're voluntary .... with inmates waiting in line for opportunities to do them because they'd rather have a little bit of money than nothing at all.

        None of this means I support the high cost of making phone calls from a prison. Personally, I susp

        • First off, if you're paid *anything* as compensation for doing a job, it's not slavery anymore, by definition.

          Your definition of "slavery" is excessively narrow, to the point of non-existence. Even the worst examples tended to offer some pay, even if it was only in the form of room and board. If offering some token compensation was all it took to avoid a charge of slavery there would be no slavery.

          If you risk corporal punishment, confinement, or loss of property for failing to carry out a task assigned by someone else, that is slavery—not counting the repayment of debts you voluntarily agreed to, or contractu

      • There's a big difference with military service (besides the fact that it's voluntary): it actually pays extremely well, at least for lower grades. You're not going to find a job in private industry that pays remotely as well as enlisting in the military, when you have only a high school diploma and no job skills. Heck, they even pay you extra for getting married!

    • Inmates have small accounts with the facility which they can feed from their 12-42 cent/hour jobs, or, if they're fortunate, with gifts from friends on the outside.
      They can spend the money on phone calls or items from the prison commissary, for example toothpaste, stamps, and vitamins.
      The last time I looked, the Federal system was charging inmates 6 cents per minute to make _collect_ calls. In other words, to talk to your children for five minutes, you'd have to work two and a half hours at one of the entry

    • As someone with a family member who's been locked up in a place with one of these systems, I can tell you: It's a racket.

      A third party has to set up an account for the inmate, with a minimum deposit, usually $60+. They then have to provide one or more phone numbers that the inmate is authorized to call "collect," or what they call "prepaid collect." The rates seem to start at about $0.75/min. So for $30, which is about the price of an unlimited cellular calling plan, they get about 40 minutes of talk ti

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 27, 2016 @07:21PM (#51789203)

    They really hate it when they get regulation on a 'captive' market.

    • This is dictionary-definition cronyism, the exact opposite of a free market. If the market was free then the prisoners could get long-distance service from anybody willing to offer it and the rates for in-country calling would be pennies/minute or less.

      Wild guess - you're voting for Bernie. I've found people who don't understand basic economics tend to swing that direction.

  • by jopsen ( 885607 ) <jopsen@gmail.com> on Sunday March 27, 2016 @08:04PM (#51789351) Homepage
    Contact to family is important for prisoners, because reducing contact increases risk of ending up in prison again (this is a well documented fact)

    Prison administrators, state governments, all have interest in increasing prisons contact with family, why they allow this is beyond my imagination.
    Companies offering phone services really ought to not exploit prisoners who don't have any choices (it's simply plain evil - particularly when considering the risk they put those prisoners at).

    Why the FCC needs to be involved is beyond my understanding. Are all the prison administrators really that corrupt?
    • Yes, the prison administrators really are corrupt. These are the same administrators that already contract out convicts as slave labor.
      • by SumDog ( 466607 )

        American Flags are made in prisons by people paid $2 an hour. You like having your flag that says "Made in the USA." Remember, it's still made my slaves.

    • What? The whole POINT of the for-profit prison system is to maximize profits. Charging ridiculous rates for phone calls is clearly a win-win for them. If the prisoner happens to commit another crime and wind up back in prison, well, CHA-CHING!

      Don't like it? Well Bernie's promised to put an end to the for-profit prison industry. No one else seems to be campaigning on it.

      • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

        This is why prisons should be penalized for recidivism, and paid not by the prisoner per month but by the prisoner rehabilitated. Let's make the profit motive work for us!

      • Well Bernie's promised to put an end to the for-profit prison industry. No one else seems to be campaigning on it.

        Actually, Hillary takes a lot of money from the for-profit prison industry in "campaign donations", so we can assume she'll do everything she can to help improve their profitability.

        So it's not a matter of the other candidates being neutral on the issue; Hillary is downright pro-private-prisons.

        And Republicans are always promoting privatization of government services, so I think it's safe to ass

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      > Prison administrators, state governments, all have interest in increasing prisons contact with family, why they allow this is beyond my imagination.

      Two things...

      You have a shitty imagination and they're not interested in reducing recidivism. Gotta keep those beds full, it keeps the budget justified and growing. (The whole for-profit thing is an aside and not really important, all told, those are only less than 10% and, while retarded, they're not the driving force.)

    • Is it corruption if the money goes to the institution and not into the administrator's pockets? The firms that gouge prisoners offer "facility commissions" to share their revenue with the prisons.
      JPay has been reported to entertain wardens lavishly, but I haven't heard of actual bribery.

    • I agree that it's in the interest of authorities to make it as easy as possible for these guys to communicate with family, both for eventual rehabilitation, but also for law-enforcement intel gathering.

      "really ought to not exploit prisoners who don't have any choices"
      Well, their first choice was not to commit a crime and go to prison, don't you think?

  • Cellphones, VoIP, and even cable company's phone (albeit it is a monthly flat rate) have done away with pay per minute long distance. Why not these companies?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Because they are literally holding their customers prisoner and give them no choice in using the service.

      • by SumDog ( 466607 )

        Correct, very correct, usage of the word literally.

        • No, somebody else is literally holding them prisoner. They're a captive market, but they're not the captives of the market.

          Having a monopoly over a market of captives, doesn't make you their captor.

          Furthermore, it is the prison administrators who restrict their choice to the one company, not the company. The company just won the bid, they don't have the authority to decide if there will be a bid that goes to only one company.

          In fact, while the main thrust of the statement is correct, each part of the statem

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      Why not these companies? Err... The distinct lack of competition, perhaps? It's not like they can just meander down to the store and sign up for a better plan or buy a pay-as-you-go phone.

    • It's called a captive audience with no alternatives. Ideal scenario for a monopoly phone provider (who's paying the warden and prison commission) and exorbitant rates that the captive audience has no way to resist..

  • recidivism rates (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Sunday March 27, 2016 @09:55PM (#51789875) Homepage Journal

    I think if a particular prison's recidivism rates are too high, that they should not be permitted to charge more than 1 cent per minute.

    If a prison is successful, then they should be permitted more leeway in how they operate.

    Of course allowing prisoners to have more frequent contact with family members, has been shown to improve a convict's chances of staying out of prison when they get out.

    (excellent rates for recidivism would be anything under 20%, typical in a US prison is 70%)

    • Rehabilitation is explicitly not part of the job of US prisons.

      A lot, maybe even the majority, of citizens have become confused about that; I blame television police and law dramas.

      In the old days, the citizens understood that the purpose was to punish people. There was never any change of law where it switched to rehabilitation. That never happened. And yet, people's perception of what exists shifted somehow. But the institutional goals did not.

      • In the old days, the citizens understood that the purpose was to punish people. There was never any change of law where it switched to rehabilitation. That never happened. And yet, people's perception of what exists shifted somehow. But the institutional goals did not.

        Actually, rehabilitation was always a design goal. The founding fathers even developed a number of prisons that, religious focus aside, would have been considered progressive even today. We're talking about things like each prisoner being assigned a 'counselor' to work with the prisoner, and each counselor having no more than 3 prisoners assigned to him. There were education opportunities - both basic and occupational.

        Much of this was lost in the 70-80s time period as crime rates skyrocketed and subseque

        • The idea was that punishing people would cause them to "learn not to do it" because of being punished, but that doesn't mean that it was a design goal to "rehabilitate" the prisoner.

          As far as the founding fathers go, they didn't actually do anything other than ban "cruel and usual punishment." But lets be clear; that in preference of standard punishment, not some other thing than pure punishment.

          • Okay, first. The founding fathers were important politicians of their day. They did far more than write and sign the constitution.

            Second, even in their day, they knew that vocational training helped. Please note that if you read the links that 'reform' in this case is often more pushed by the desire to do better than the knowledge of how to actually do so.
            Auburn system [wikipedia.org] - "Whigs favored this system because it promised to rehabilitate criminals by teaching them personal discipline and respect for work, pr

            • "The Auburn system (also known as the New York System) is a penal method of the 19th century in which persons worked during the day in groups and were kept in solitary confinement at night, with enforced silence at all times."

              "Rush deemed public punishments such as putting a person on display in stocks, common at the time, to be counterproductive. He proposed instead private confinement, labor, solitude, and religious instruction for criminals. In addition he opposed the death penalty."

              Right. None of that c

      • It's not cost effective to operate a system that only punishes people and lacks any way to break the cycle.
        Wasting money because that's how things were always done is not a good reason to keep doing the same thing.

        • Right, right, but unless somebody goes and changes all the laws and regulations about how to run prisons, then it is neither cost effective or realistic to want or expect them to be run differently.

          Wasting money because the law says so it entirely sustainable, regardless of efficiency, because they are given money to operate. They aren't asked to break even. How can people even tell the difference?

          • Right, right, but unless somebody goes and changes all the laws and regulations about how to run prisons, then it is neither cost effective or realistic to want or expect them to be run differently.

            There is no evidence to support your position.

      • Rehabilitation is explicitly not part of the job of US prisons.

        Hmm...maybe it should be?

  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @12:55AM (#51790477) Homepage

    I see nobody has any actual experience dealing with prison calls. It's all the usual claptrap that people have heard somewhere online and are repeating. Long ago I used to work for a company that collected past-due phone bills. It was mundane work, just call them and remind them they're overdue, will be cut off from the carrier if they don't pay by a certain date, etc. Nothing threatening or weird. Once in a while we would get a batch of jail calls, all made collect from the jailhouse phones. The reaction on these was different. Usually the person who answered was a woman, and more than once she was relieved that we would be cutting her off from these calls.

    She couldn't pay for them anyway, and the man inside didn't give a shit. He was bored, or controlling, and would call again and again. I had the call records and the guy would call for 15 minutes, get automatically cut off, call again, and again, and again. Day after day after day. Something the "they neeeed to talk to their faaaamilies!!!" crowd apparently has totally failed to consider. Maybe their families don't want to talk to them because they're horrible manipulative evil people who belong in prison.

    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @03:39AM (#51790875)
      These women have the choice and freedom to decline the calls. I was in virginia prison for a decade. There are people who prey on a caring wife/mother etc wasting money with constant calls. These are a small portion and your view is biased by your job in only seeing those that went to collection. I knew far more people that called rarely due to high rates, or sent some of their extremely low inmate pay to family to!cover costs of calls. In Virginia formexample inmate pay was 0.23 to 0.45 per hour inluess youhad an industry job. Those could go up to 2 per hour and were very limited, IE hard to get.
      As for myself, I almost never called as my main contact, my mother, moved to England, and international calls were not allowedexcept from a staff phone, prepaid with supervision. I didn't care!about the supervision, but none of the staff knew or were willing to help with this
      Make no mistake, prisons phones arema profiteering racket, so is prison medical, commissary, industry.. Corruption is incredibly rampant, so is regulatory capture and more...
    • Long ago I used to work for a company that collected past-due phone bills.

      So the details you remember from long ago support your political beliefs. How strange [wikipedia.org].

      Once in a while we would get a batch of jail calls, all made collect from the jailhouse phones.

      You do realize you could simply disallow or limit collect calls from jail?

      The elephant in the room is GOP. It's the right wing that's causing this problem, and most others.

  • by yodleboy ( 982200 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @08:56AM (#51791593)
    seems if family went to next state and got a burner phone with an out of state number, then inmate could call that line and save $$. At the jacked up rates for in-state calls, it would probably pay for itself in 5 minutes.
  • Completely. Look at the rates they're charging. Do any of you know how that works? The prisoner gets one person (it may be more in federal, but this is how it was when I had someone in jail in Brevard Co, FL), and that person needs to prepay the company - $50, please, at least), and they get to call specific numbers, and no one else. And they've only got certain hours... usually, when most folks are at work.

    Studies show that the less the contact with the outside world, the higher the recidivism rate. So the

  • Get busted for smoking Marijuana and suddenly you are a master criminal. You have to be punished by not being allowed a cellphone or access to a telephone at a cent per minute rate or even free. Need to talk to your child and it will cost you $0.22 per minute.
    That is a real miscarriage of justice, as is "for profit prisons". That telephone is a major profit centre.

  • The real question is why prisoners are getting charged for phone calls at all. The incremental cost of calls to anywhere in the US on any reasonable phone plan is now zero, so that should be the price that the prisoners pay. The entire system of charging for calls is a throwback to the days when using the telephone was expensive.

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