OKLAHOMA CITY – After a lawsuit brought by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an order this week that will save the state millions of dollars by partially relieving state and local agencies from the burden of unlawful federal regulations.
The suit involves the FCC’s attempt to regulate the telephone rates charged to inmates for intrastate calls from prisons and county jails. Under federal law, however, the FCC can generally only regulate interstate calls. The FCC ignored this limitation on its authority, and last fall issued rate caps for in-state inmate calls that are far lower than the rates currently charged and that would cause state prisons and county jails to lose significant funds in providing inmates with telephone access. In setting the rates, the FCC ignored pleas from states and sheriffs to consider the fact that jails and prisons incur costs in providing these telephone services—including valuable time spent monitoring phone calls to prevent illicit activity and providing security while escorting prisoners to the phones.
At the request of Oklahoma sheriffs and the Department of Corrections, Attorney General Pruitt led a coalition of nine States and numerous sheriffs to file suit against the FCC’s in-state phone call price controls, arguing that the FCC acted unlawfully and arbitrarily ignored the costs of providing inmates with phone access. The federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. issued several preliminary decisions siding with Oklahoma and halting implementation of the FCC’s in-state rate caps.
After the Attorney General Pruitt filed his brief, laying out the arguments of the states and sheriffs, the FCC capitulated by releasing a new set of rate caps, which for the first time take into account the costs to jails and prisons in providing phone calls. Although these new caps are still unlawful, they are an improvement over the initial caps will result in millions in savings to the State and local sheriffs.
“We will continue to fight the price controls set by the FCC for in-state calls because they represent yet another unlawful federal intrusion into state authority,” Attorney General Pruitt said. “I am pleased to work with States and sheriffs from around the country and across party lines to vindicate state and local control over how we run and fund our jails and prisons. While the FCC’s newest action will lessen the devastating fiscal impact on state and local agencies if their rate caps ultimately upheld, their action remains unlawful. Without this suit, jails and prisons in Oklahoma would lose millions of already-scarce dollars, jeopardizing important inmate welfare programs, including substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, and other rehabilitative services. It is a shame that it took a major lawsuit and several losses in Court for the FCC to even begin listening to the concerns of county jails and state prisons about the arbitrariness of their actions.”