[Footage Description: 6:36 video featuring Alison [white signing woman with short brown hair, wearing a black top and signing against an orange background]. The video is the ASL version of the information shared below.]
English Version, with links embedded:
HEARD Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice Campaign Update – June 2017 – DC Circuit Court Decision
People who are imprisoned, their families, activists and attorneys have waged a two decades-long campaign to lower prison call rates.
In 2013 and then again in 2015, under then-President Barack Obama’s Federal Communications Commission took action to alleviate the burden of families paying extremely high rates just to keep in contact with their incarcerated loved ones. Six years ago, HEARD joined this fight to lower phone rates and also to demand that the FCC & DOJ require prison telephone companies to install videophones and other accessible technology for our communities.
Under President Obama’s administration, the FCC decided that different jails and prisons could maintain different rates, but no incarcerated person, would be pay more than 49 cents per minute for a call to someone in the same state where their prison was located.
Last week, years progress was lost when the D.C. Circuit court of appeals ruled against limiting the cost of intrastate prison phone calls. Intrastate calls are calls that are made and received in one state.
For 2.2 million people behind bars and their families, the ruling is a serious setback in their 20 year struggle for affordable phone calls. Phone calls allow incarcerated people to keep up relationships, including with their children, among others. Now, when incarcerated people and their families live in the same state, those communications will be completely unregulated by the federal government.
The DC Circuit decision came after political turnover at the FCC. Two of the commissioners who had voted in favor of caps on prison phone rates under Obama are gone. Ajit Pai, who had voted against the 2013 FCC proposal to cap rates, was designated the commission chairperson by Donald Trump. In a last-minute change, after current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was appointed to lead the commission, the agency refused to defend the rate caps in court leaving independent intervenors just days to continue the fight on behalf of a federal government agency.
On January 31, counsel for the FCC filed a letter advising the D.C. Circuit Court that given the commission’s chairperson changes, “a majority of the current Commission does not believe that the agency has the authority to cap intrastate rates.” Non-government attorneys had just days to rush to argue in place of the government itself to protect the rights of 2.2 million incarcerated people and more than 2.7 million children of incarcerated people for reasonable rates for telephone communication.
HEARD has continued to fight on the state and national level for accessible telecom and this recent court decision only emboldens us to fight even harder. We are organizing a multi-state action where we focus on several states. We will need YOUR help! We will keep you in the loop on our action and we look forward to having your support with our effort to get videophones into jails and prisons across the nation.
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