By Oklahoma Watch and Trevor Brown
A legal challenge, partly spearheaded by Oklahoma leaders, has blocked the federal government from setting limits on how much inmates and their families can be charged for in-state telephone calls.
The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2-1 decision Tuesday that the Federal Communications Commission exceeded its authority in creating a national rule that sought to cap fees on intrastate phone calls for the first time.
The change, which would limit fees to 11 cents per minute in state or federal prisons and from 14 to 31 cents per minute in local jails, was set to take effect Dec. 12, 2016, for prisons and March 13 of this year for jails.
Prisoner advocates had hailed the move as a critical step toward upholding the rights of inmates and ensuring they have the ability to stay in touch with their loved ones while incarcerated.
But Oklahoma, followed by several other states, local governments and telecommunications companies, challenged the ruling and successfully argued for the fee caps to be put on hold while the lawsuit was heard.
Representing the coalition of state and local governments, Oklahoma Solicitor General Mithun Mansinghani argued that states, not the FCC, have the power to cap fees on intrastate calls.