As the FCC takes steps that could put a dent in the online antics of some criminals behind bars, the Channel 4 I-Team has found more evidence of inmates living it up on the taxpayers' dime.
Videos of Tennessee inmates bragging about their drug use, and photos showing the prisoners hoarding food, giving each other tattoos and burning a shirt, were all posted to Facebook from behind bars, all of it exposed by the Channel 4 I-Team.
Now, the inmates are also using the online photo and video social media network Instagram, and they're not showing any signs of slowing down their efforts to show off their good times.
If Tennessee's prison inmates need a social media guru, Rivera Peoples would be it. He's moved on from posting videos on Facebook to now using Instagram.
He's posted images of himself working out, flashing cash and even a previous Channel 4 News segment on social media use in prisons.
The inmates are accessing social media sites using contraband cell phones, even after the state swept through 14 prisons and confiscated phones following a Channel 4 I-Team investigation.
Critics of prisons have long claimed that because the landline phone calls made from prison are so expensive, inmates often have no choice to smuggle in cheaper cell phones. Just to connect on a landline call costs $3.62, and it then costs 62 cents for every minute.
A 30 minute call can cost a prisoner or their families about $22.
In a hearing Friday, the FCC said that's outrageous.
"Too often, families are forced to choose between spending scarce money to stay in touch with a loved one, or cover life's basic necessities," said FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn.
And the Tennessee Department of Correction has cashed in on the costs, contracting out through a private phone company, and earning more than $2 million last year on phone calls.
"Tennessee, like most rates, has inflated phone rates, because the state gets a commissioned kickback from the phone company," said Alex Friedmann, editor for Prison Legal News.
But will lower rates make a difference? The state of New York thinks so.
In filings to the FCC, that state's department of corrections stated after it lowered phone rates, that contributed to a lower rate of illicit cell phone use.
Last year, fewer than 100 cell phones were confiscated in the entire state.
Keep in mind, after the Channel 4 I-Team's investigation, Tennessee prison officials found 50 cell phones in a single raid.
The highest rate the FCC says a prison can now charge for a phone call is 25 cents.
The Channel 4 I-Team contacted both the Tennessee Department of Correction, and the private phone company with which it contracts, Global Tel Link. The state did not respond, and Global Tel Link said it could not yet comment on the order.
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