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Articles about Phone Justice

Alabama Officials Guilty in Phone Scam

A former Alabama state auditor, County commissioner and another man pleaded guilty in July 1999 to federal charges stemming from a prison pay phone scam operated in Alabama and Louisiana by Global Tel*Link, a Mobile-based company. Former state auditor Terry Ellis pleaded guilty to tax evasion. Former Mobile County Commissioner Dan Wiley and salesman Donald G. Bahouth pleaded guilty to tax evasion and money laundering.

In exchange for the pleas, the government dropped conspiracy and mail fraud charges, according to The Associated Press. In addition, the three agreed to testify against the two remaining defendants named in the indictment. They are political consultant and lobbyist Willie F. "Buddy" Hamner and businessman William T.J. "Billy" Boyett.

The federal indictment accuses the five men of defrauding the federal government, the state of Alabama, Mobile county

taxpayers and families of jail detainees and prisoners over a four-year period.

Global Tel*Link, previously known as Global Telcoin and United Telcoin, bilked customers who accepted automated collect calls from prisoners by padding minutes and adding hidden charges. Then in order to lower the size of the commissions paid by the company to state and local governments, fake phone sales figures were used in ...

WA and IN Prison Phone Rates Challenged

On June 20, 2000, a class action suit was filed in King county (Seattle) superior court in Washington. The suit claims that various phone companies that have contracted with the Washington Department of Corrections to provide collect call services for Washington prisoners have violated RCW 80.36.520 and RCW 19.86.090, of the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

The complaint states that people receiving in state long distance calls from Washington prisoners are not informed of the rates they are being charged for the call. People residing in other states who receive long distance collect calls from Washington prisoners were not afforded an opportunity to learn the rates they were being charged prior to November 1, 1999, when the Federal Communications Commission mandated disclosure of the rates. This lack of rate notification violates RCW 80.36.520 which requires that phone companies inform consumers of the rate they are being charged for phone services. Violations of the statute are actionable in state court with damages presumed as the cost of service, plus $200 per violation (i.e., per call). RCW 19.86.090 allows for civil suits that seek triple damages, injunctions and attorney fees for violations of the ...

Sweeping ADA/RA Jail Settlement Benefits Hearing Impaired Prisoners

by Matthew T. Clarke

A federal district court in California has approved a sweeping settlement of hearing impaired prisoners' claims in a civil rights, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Rehabilitation Act (RA) class-action suit against the Santa Clara County (California) Department of Corrections (DOC). In doing so, the court approved a settlement award of $72,000 for the named prisoner plaintiffs, $196,455 in attorney fees, and $9,841 for costs.

Anthony Padilla, Criss Brown, Jill Brown, and Bruce Lambart are hearing impaired prisoners who filed a class-

action lawsuit against the DOC alleging violations of Title 11 of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, as well as state claims under the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civil Code § 51, and the California Public Accommodations Law, Cal. Civil Code §§ 54 and 54.2, et seq., and a variety of other federal and state claims not specified in the settlement. Amanda K. Wilson of the Public Interest Law Firm in San Jose, CA, Linda D. Kilb and Arlene B. Meyerson of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc. in Berkeley, CA, and John ...

$100,000 Awarded Under ICCPR in GA Jail Suit

On February 24, 2000, a federal jury In Augusta, Georgia awarded 1100,000 in damages to a Danish citizen who was denied medical care and phone calls to his family in Denmark while he was awaiting trial in the Lincoln county jail in Georgia. The ruling is historic because it is the first time and American jury has awarded damages under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty to which the United States is a signatory.

Flemming Ralk, 72, was held for 14 months in the Lincoln county jail in Lincolnton, Georgia, awaiting trial on federal fraud charges. Ralk went to trial and was acquitted on all charges. While awaiting trial Ralk repeatedly sought medical treatment for a herniated disk and stomach trouble. he did not receive adequate medical treatment. He was also denied reading material and outdoor exercise. The jail's phone system only allows for collect calls within the United States. Ralk was not allowed to make any phone calls to his family in Denmark nor receive any calls from them.

Ralk filed suit under the ICCPR and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court held that rights under the ICCPR are no ...

West Virginia Prisoners Protest Visit/Phone Restrictions

Prisoners at the Mount Olive Correctional Center in West Virginia staged a walkout on Monday morning August 30, 1999 to protest a new visitation policy and problems with the phone system.

More than 200 prisoners gathered in the prison's recreation yard and sat down. Most of them had walked away .from industry jobs. After 90 minutes Warden Howard Painter promised to meet with four prisoner leaders and said he will begin a weekly closed-circuit television address to keep the prison population informed about what the administration is doing.

The protesters complained about restrictive visitation policies enacted after a female visitor smuggled a gun inside the maximum-security prison August 8. They also cited interruptions in telephone service, and demanded that prisoners locked-down in the Quilliams II unit (a "supermax" segregation unit) be given back lost privileges.

Warden Painter agreed to restore privileges to the Quilliams II prisoners, who had been without showers, hot meals, or television since the August 8th gun-smuggling incident.

"I do know that [Painter] made cigarettes and coffee available to [the Quilliams II prisoners]," Corrections Commissioner Paul Kirby told the Charleston Gazette. "We're going to see if we're looking at a communication problem," he added ...

Illinois Phone Suit Dismissed

In the August, 1999, issue of PLN we reported that a class action suit had been filed in federal court in Illinois challenging the extortionate phone rates charged to those who accept collect calls from prisoners.

On March 23, 2000, federal district court judge William Hibbler ordered the suit dismissed on the defendants' motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs in the suit consisted of prisoners phoning people outside prison and free citizens desiring phone contact with prisoners. The defendants are the Illinois Department of Corrections and various Illinois county jails that have entered into exclusive phone service contracts with phone companies. Also being sued are the phone companies that provide phone services to Illinois prisons and jails and charge rates significantly higher than those charged for collect calls by non prisoners. The plaintiffs claimed that the high rates violated numerous provisions of the U.S. and Illinois constitutions, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the federal 1996 federal telecommunications act and various state laws. (See the August, 1999, PLN for the full details on the suit.)

The court held the issues were non justiciable under the "filed rate" and "primary jurisdiction" doctrines. Under 47 U.S.C. § 203(a) phone companies file tariffs ...

New Mexico Private and State Prison Phone Rates Challenged

Two separate state court class action lawsuits have challenged the excessive phone rates charged to people who accept collect calls from New Mexico state prisoners. The first lawsuit, Valdez v. Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, was filed on December 30, 1999, in Rio Arriba district court. The plaintiffs have family members imprisoned in private prisons or jails run by Wackenhut, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Cornell Corrections and Correctional Services Corporation (CSC). Private prisons hold about 30% of all state prisoners in New Mexico and numerous jail detainees. The defendants in the suit include the private prison companies and their employees. The phone service provider defendants are Evercom Systems, Inc. and PCS America, Inc.

The plaintiffs claim that the private prison companies have exclusive contracts whereby prisoners can only place collect calls using the services of the phone service provider defendants, who in turn pay hefty kickbacks to the prison companies in exchange for the contracts. This arrangement prevents the use of competitive services or lower rates by either the prisoner or the people who accept collect calls from them.

The plaintiffs claim that these exclusive contracts and the resulting kickbacks violate the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act, NMSA 1978, § 57-12-1, et ...

Private Prison Denied Wiretap Exception

A federal district court in Rhode Island held that a private jail is neither a "law enforcement" agency, nor a federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility, that would shield it from liability under federal wiretapping statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2520 (the Act). The court further held that factual disputes required a trial on the issue of consent to intercept.

This case involves numerous plaintiffs, consisting of attorneys, their incarcerated clients, and the prisoners' families and friends. At all relevant times (1993-94), the prisoners were confined to the Wyatt Detention Facility, which was operated by Cornell Corrections, a private corporation. During this period, the plaintiffs claim that the defendants (the corporation, its agents and employees) intercepted telephone calls from the prisoners, including confidential and privileged legal communications.

Section 2520 of the Act creates a private right of action for any person whose oral communication is intercepted in violation of the Act. As a result, the plaintiffs sued for damages under the Act, and an analogous Rhode Island statute. Both sides subsequently moved for summary judgment.

The Act provides two relevant exceptions to liability. First, § 2510(5)(a)(ii) excludes wiretaps "by an investigative or law enforcement officer in the ordinary ...

Class Action Suits Challenge Rip-Off Prison and Jail Phone Rates

Suit Filed in Illinois

On May 5, 1999, a class action suit was filed by Illinois consumers who receive collect calls from Illinois state and county jail prisoners alleging that they are forced to pay exorbitant phone rates as a result of an illegal conspiracy between phone companies, the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) and some county jails. The plaintiffs include the unimprisoned spouses, parents and siblings of prisoners, prisoners and a legal services group. The defendants are the state of Illinois, the Illinois counties of DuPage, Cook, and Kane and telephone companies AT&T, Invisions Telecom, MCI Telecommunications Corporation and Consolidated Communications Public Services, Inc.

The plaintiffs allege that the exclusive phone service agreements entered into by the phone company and prison/ jail defendants result in those who receive collect calls from prisoners being charged excessive rates and surcharges. The contracts result in huge kickbacks; up to 50% of gross billed revenues, to the jails and prison systems who enter into these exclusive use contracts. The complaint alleges that these exclusive contracts, and the resulting excessive costs, constitute an illegal monopoly and violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the First, Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the US constitution, the Illinois state constitution and the Illinois Anti-Trust Act.

The plaintiff class consists of all families, lawyers and bill payer plaintiffs who are billed for phone calls initiated by prisoners confined to a jail or prison operated by the state and county defendants. The ...

FCC Requires Rate Disclosure for Prison Phones

The Federal Communications Commission, (FCC) has issued regulations mandating the disclosure rates consumers will actually pay for phone calls received from prisoners. Effective October 1, 1999, 47 C.F.R. § 67.710 "Operator Services for Prison Inmate Phones", states in its entirety:

"(a) Each provider of inmate operator services services shall:

(i) Identify itself, audibly and distinctly, to the consumer before connecting any interstate, domestic, in interexchange telephone call and disclose immediately hereafter how the consumer may obtain rate quotations, by dialing no more than two digits or remaining on the line, for the first minute of the call and for additional minutes, before providing further oral advice to the consumer how to proceed to make the call;

(2) Permits the consumer to terminate the telephone call at no charge before the call is connected; and

(3) Disclose immediately to the consumer, upon request and at no charge to the consumer

(i) The methods by which its rates or charges for the call will be collected; and

(ii) The methods by which con hints concerning such rates, charges or collection practices will be resolved.

(4) Inmate telephone services means any interstate telecommunication service initiated front an innate telephone that includes ...