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Martha Wright v. Corrections Corporation of America (FCC Petition)

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Synopsis

This FCC petition requests federal regulation of interstate prison telephone calling systems to ensure just telephone rates and adequate telephone services for prisoners.

Status

In March of 2007 Petitioners submitted an alternative rulemaking proposal to the FCC. The new proposal requests that the FCC establish benchmark rates for all interstate inmate calling services no higher than $0.20 per minute for debit calling and $0.25 per minute for collect calling. The proposal is currently before the FCC.

Description

In February of 2000 CCR filed Wright v. Corrections Corporation of America, a nationwide class action lawsuit, seeking to enjoin, declare illegal, and recoup damages resulting from conspiracies between CCA and various telephone companies, including Evercom, Inc., MCI-Worldcom, Pioneer Telephone Corporation, AT&T, and Global Telecommunications Link, Inc. CCA operates 82 prisons and jails in 26 states pursuant to agreements with state and local governments under which persons under the jurisdiction and control of those governments are transferred to CCA facilities for incarceration. CCA entered into a series of exclusive agreements with telephone companies to provide inmate telephone service at various CCA-run prisons and jails. These exclusive dealing agreements allow defendants to use their control over a captive audience to unjustly enrich themselves.

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs alleged that the unconscionable arrangements violated their 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, Section 10. They also alleged that the agreements violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, 15 U.S.C. Sections 1 et seq., the Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. Sections 151 et seq., and other laws of the District of Columbia.

On August 22, 2001 District Judge Gladys Kessler acknowledged the civil rights concerns, but referred the case to the Federal Communications Commission, under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction. For two years, CCR participated in a mediation process with defendants and the Special Enforcement unit of the FCC as required. No settlement was reached however, and on October 31, 2003, CCR filed a petition for rulemaking with the FCC. The petition sought restructuring of long distance inmate calling services to introduce competition. In March of 2007, CCR and its partners filed an alternative rulemaking proposal. The alternative proposal requests that the FCC establish benchmark rates for all interstate inmate calling services no higher than $0.20 per minute for debit calling and $0.25 per minute for collect calling. The FCC sought comments on petitioners’ alternative proposal in the spring of 2007, and supportive comments were filed with the FCC by many organizations, including the Ad Hoc Coalition for the Right to Communicate and the Sentencing Project. The proposal is currently before the FCC.

Timeline

On February 16, 2000, the Wright v. CCA complaint was filed in the D.C. District Court. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint in the spring of 2000.

On August 22, 2001, District Judge Gladys Kessler acknowledged the civil rights concerns, but referred the case to the Federal Communications Commission, under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction.

On October 31, 2003, CCR filed a petition for rulemaking with the FCC. The petition sought restructuring of long distance inmate calling services to introduce competition.

In March of 2007, CCR and its partners filed an alternative rulemaking proposal requesting that the FCC establish benchmark rates for all interstate inmate calling services no higher than $0.20 per minute for debit calling and $0.25 per minute for collect calling.

Co-Counsel:
Frank Krogh, Doane Kiechel, and Jennifer Kostyu, Morrison & Forester LLP
Deborah Golden, D.C. Prisoners’ Project
Stephen Seliger and Laurie Elkin, Seliger & Elkin Ltd.