Ruling to save DOC, sheriffs millions
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter today announced a victory in an on-going dispute over inmate phone call rates and the costs incurred by the state corrections department and county jails for allowing those calls.
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit threw out federal intrastate rate regulation, saying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lacks legal authority to mandate rates for inmate phone calls that take place entirely within one state. The court faulted the FCC for “ignoring the terms” of the law and for “misreading” the court’s precedent.
The ruling also called the method for calculating the caps “arbitrary” for failing to include the costs incurred by jails and prisons to allow inmates to use the phones. The court criticized the FCC’s method by saying it “defies reasoned decision making,” “makes no sense,” “simply cannot (be) comprehend(ed),” and is “hard to fathom.”
Read the court’s full opinion, here.
The case brought by the attorney general is estimated to save the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) around $1.2 million per year and the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office around $375,000 per year. Other sheriff’s departments around the state will see similar savings because of the ruling.
Claiming a major victory for the state over unlawful federal regulation, Attorney General Hunter thanked the work of the Solicitor General’s Unit, which argued the case, and said the savings will enable the DOC and county sheriff’s offices to keep phones in facilities, which will allow inmates communications with their families. Meanwhile, prisons and jails will be compensated for the costs incurred in allowing those calls, including monitoring phone calls to prevent illegal activity and providing security while escorting prisoners to the phones.
Without these measures, phones could be used to intimidate witnesses and judges, smuggle drugs and other contraband into the facilities, and organize gang activity and murders outside the facilities.
“I appreciate Solicitor General Mithun Mansinghani for his hard work on this case and seeing it through to benefit the state,” Attorney General Hunter said. “The excessive cost would have been detrimental to the DOC and sheriff’s offices. This ruling will allow for inmates to continue communicating with their families on the outside while ensuring the calls are properly monitored.”
Oklahoma was the first state in the nation to challenge the FCC’s 2015 ruling to place caps on how much inmates can be charged for making phone calls. Soon after, eight other states and numerous sheriff’s offices across the country joined Oklahoma’s appeal.
DOC Director Joe M. Allbaugh applauded the state’s Attorney General’s Office for the work challenging the FCC’s ruling to benefit the corrections system.
“The court’s decision is a clear victory for the DOC, one that will give us the opportunity to generate funding for much needed programs and treatments for inmates,” Allbaugh said. “The DOC will also be able to continue properly monitoring inmate phones in the best interest of public safety. I appreciate the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office for their work in this case and reversing the unconstitutional decision by the FCC.”