TOPEKA – A federal appeals court this week struck down federal limits on how much can be charged for inmate calling services for in-state prisoner phone calls, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with Kansas and eight other states that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have authority to cap the cost of prison and jail phone calls within states. In a lawsuit filed in 2016, the state plaintiffs challenged the Obama administration’s attempt to cap the amount that local jails and state prisons may charge to prisoners for phone calls even when the cost of providing the calling service exceeds the amount that can be recovered from the prisoner or prisoner’s family.
“This case was one of our remaining challenges to overreaching federal regulations implemented during the Obama administration,” Schmidt said. “The Court affirmed our view that the federal government lacked this authority to regulate the states. Under our federal system, not all power resides in Washington.”
The FCC regulation effectively required state taxpayers to subsidize inmate phone calls by regulating the price of calls that could be charged to inmates housed within the states. Implementation of the regulation was preliminarily blocked by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in March 2016. The D.C. Circuit Court heard oral argument in February and entered its ruling this week.
The FCC’s caps on interstate prisoner phone calls – calls that cross state lines – still stands, but this week’s ruling means that telecommunications companies, or state prisons and local jails, are free to set rates or charge for intrastate calls as long as they comply with state regulations.
The case is Global Tel*Link v. FCC, in the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Case No.15-1461.
A copy of the ruling by the D.C. Court of Appeals can be found at http://bit.ly/2tqrCS5.