Oklahoma is allowed to set its rates for in-state phone calls from behind bars according to a federal court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled struck down parts of a Federal Communications Commission order that capped how much money prisoners pay to make calls. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections charges 20 cents per minute for calls; before the regulation, inmates were charged $3 per call.
Attorney General Mike Hunter declared the ruling a victory. By setting its rates, the state will increase the Corrections Departments revenue by $2M per year and increase the revenue for the Oklahoma County Sheriff by $375,000. According to Hunter, the money is necessary to maintain a monitored phone service to prevent witness and judge intimidation, drug smuggling, and organized gang activity.
Joe Allbaugh, Director of Corrections, said that the ruling would help generate funding for inmate programs and treatment.
The lawsuit was brought against the FCC in 2015, by Oklahoma, after the implementation of the nationwide caps. Eight states joined the lawsuit. Prisoner Advocacy groups criticized the high calling rates and looked to the FCC regulation, as inmates and their families often have to decide between food and phone calls.
Caitlin Dryke with New Hope Oklahoma, which offers camps and programs for children of prisoners, said that in criminal justice conversations, people forget many prisoners are parents. “Visits are few and far between, so any contact they (children) get to have with that parent can be powerful and meaningful,” Dryke said.
For over 2 million people behind bars, this ruling is a severe setback, to affordable phone calls. The phone calls that prisoners make allow them to keep in touch with their children, and their families that live in the same state.