by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Martha Wright is 86-years old and loves her grandson. Wright has become unable to afford food and medication while also seeking to pay massive fees that are charged by the Corrections Corporation of America(CCA), whom she believes seeks to extract unfair amounts of money from the families of prison inmates. In a class-action lawsuit filed back in 2000, Wright and others are seeking to recoup damages from the CCA, as well as phone companies who are accused of gouging families for phone calls.
The lawsuit alleges that the arrangements between these companies and the prison system are a violation of constitutional rights to speech and association, as well as their rights to foster and maintain family relations under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. They also allege violations of the Sherman Anti-trust Act, due to the collusive monopolies that some corporations are able to maintain in the prison system.
At this point, Wright and the other plaintiffs are asking that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to file rules that limit the amount that companies can charge for inmate calls. The powerful organizing group ColorofChange.org has taken up Wright’s case as well.
In an email sent out to supporters, ColorofChange noted that inmates’ families are sometimes charged as much as 15 times the normal phone rates. They are rallying the public to get involved in FCC rulings that will take place in the near future. The public has only until March 25 to make their comments heard.
The group also alleges corruption and price-fixing schemes that benefit politicians who receive kickbacks at the expense of inmates’ families.
“And while government entities generating revenue by punishing the families of prisoners is a scandal, it’s the private prison industry in particular that has a ruthless track record of profit-seeking behavior that actively targets and exploits the most vulnerable among us. The country’s largest private prison operator, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), was a key architect of Arizona’s notorious SB1070, the racial profiling law designed to fill prison beds with anyone unable to prove on demand that they aren’t an undocumented immigrant. The GEO Group, the industry’s second largest player and regular subject of civil and human rights abuse investigations, was barred from doing business with the entire state of Mississippi after massive corner-cutting at their Walnut Grove youth facility led to rampant sexual and other physical abuse by staff of the minors in their care.“
The group also states that this problem has a significant impact on the African American community:
“For Black men in their 30s, one in every ten is in prison or jail on any given day, and federal sentencing data shows that Black men receive longer sentences than white men for the same crimes. Among Black children, one in nine has an incarcerated parent, constituting an enormous captive audience for prison phone operators preying on the need to keep family connections alive over the course of years or even decades apart.”
The group ends with this statement, calling for public support to change the law:
Demand that the FCC cap interstate phone rates and stop prison phone operators from exploiting our families for extortionate profits. And when you do, please ask your friends and family to do the same.
The public should certainly support the efforts by ColorofChange and other conscientious groups that seek to make a difference on this issue. I spoke this week with Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow.” She and I both agree that the War on Drugs and mass incarceration have destroyed black families to the point that it is even reasonable to demand reparations for what has been done to our communities. While the reparations may never be paid, such a conversation will help to highlight the damage that has been done and perhaps rally the public to pursue legislation that will help to reverse the consequences of irresponsible and racist public policy.
For every right wing Republican who wants to know why there are so many black single mothers in our community, they should realize that it’s because many of the fathers of these children are in prison. It’s hard to be a husband and father when society has already designated you to be a slave. It’s time to pursue justice for the families of prison inmates.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and author of the book, “Black American Money”. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. Please join Dr. Watkins and Min. Louis Farrakhan for a summit on “Wealth, Education, Family and Community: A New Paradigm for Black America” to be held in Chicago on March 30. You can RSVP by clicking here.