After nearly a decade of delay, the Federal Communications Commission is finally focusing on the private telephone companies that charge outrageously high rates for the calls that many of the nation’s 1.6 million prison inmates make to stay in contact with their families.
The commissioners are considering a proposal to seek public comment on prison phone regulation. They need to act to end the burdensome charges that can make a single phone call from prison as expensive as an entire month of home phone service.
Prison calls are so expensive because inmates must place them through independent companies that pay the state corrections departments a “commission,” essentially a legal kickback. A 15 minute call can cost a family as much as $17.
For struggling families who want to keep in touch with loved ones behind bars, this can sometimes mean choosing between a phone call and putting food on the table.
The high cost discourages contact with loved ones behind bars, which, in turn, makes it all the more difficult for ex-offenders to fit in at home when they are released.
For this reason, more than a half-dozen states have already lowered rates by barring their corrections departments from requiring “commission” arrangements in telephone contracts.
Even so, some prison officials and telephone companies defend the commission system, arguing that the extra charges are necessary to pay for security screening of inmate calls.
But that is not a problem in states like New York, which requires companies to provide prison telephone service at the lowest possible rate. Nor is it a problem in the federal prisons, which use an inexpensive, computerized system that allows inmates to place monitored calls to a limited number of preregistered people.
The F.C.C. should move quickly to bring fairness to the system, and it should consider imposing rate caps on what the phone companies can charge.
A former Baylor University basketball player pleaded guilty Thursday to trying to extort $1 million from former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Richard Khamir Hurd, 26, who was arrested by FBI agents in June, faces up to five years in federal prison and up to $500,000 in fines after his guilty plea to extortion and receiving money from extortion.
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. will sentence Hurd on Nov. 21.
When asked for comment as he was leaving the courthouse, Hurd, who remains free on bond, said only, “Sic ’em, Bears.”
Hurd’s attorney, Russ Hunt Sr., deferred comment until after Hurd is sentenced.
Former Baylor basketball player Richard Hurd faces up to five years in prison and up to a $500,000 fine for his extortion attempt of Robert Griffin III.
According to details recited in court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Gloff, Hurd contacted Ben Dogra, Griffin’s agent in St. Louis, and threatened to release information about the Heisman Trophy winner’s relationship with his fiancee that he claimed would damage the current Washington Redskins quarterback’s reputation.
Hurd is a former boyfriend of Griffin’s fiancee, according to court records, which remained sealed Thursday evening on orders from Smith.
Dogra contacted the FBI, which started an investigation to expose Hurd’s extortion attempt. At the direction of the FBI, Dogra contacted Hurd and told him that the information wasn’t worth $1 million since Griffin was not married and had no children.
He negotiated Hurd’s original demand down to $120,000, which Hurd agreed to accept along with agreeing to sign a “nondisclosure” agreement, according to records from which the federal prosecutor read.
Waco attorney Ben Selman agreed to help federal investigators and drafted the agreement, Gloff said. Hurd came to Selman’s office at the Naman, Howell, Smith and Lee law firm, signed the agreement and took the check for $120,000, all while being videotaped by the FBI.
FBI agents arrested him after the meeting at the law office.
Dogra did not return phone messages left at his St. Louis office Thursday.
Selman declined comment about his participation in the case.
Hurd played basketball at Heritage Christian Academy in Cleveland, Texas, before earning a spot on Baylor’s team.
The 6-foot-5-inch forward was a walk-on at Baylor beginning in 2004, starting 10 games as a freshman.
Hurd lettered four years, playing his last season in 2008.