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Articles about Phone Justice

You're in the Hole: A Crackdown on Dissident Prisoners

It was September 19, 2001. Elizabeth McAlister had not heard from her husband, Philip Berrigan, in more than a week. Such silence on Berrigan's part was "most unusual," she says. Convinced that something was wrong, she telephoned the Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, Ohio, where the seventy-seven-year-old peace activist is serving a sentence of a year and a day for hammering on a military aircraft while on probation for a similar action in another state.

"It took ten phone calls to the prison to get them to admit to me that he was in segregation," she says. McAlister also learned that Berrigan was being denied all phone calls and visits, even from family members. "I was not told why or for how long."

So McAlister telephoned the office of her Senator, Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski. Mikulski's office called the prison and, according to McAlister, was told "that Phil was put in segregation on September 11, 2001, as a direct consequence of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, [and] that this was done `for his protection.'"

But that explanation did not ring true. "If Philip is in segregation `for his protection,' why the punitive denial ...

No Qualified Immunity for Shackling Prisoner to Hospital Bed

Gregory May, a Cook County, Illinois, prisoner, filed a suit against the Sheriff and Sheriff's Department officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging their treatment of prisoners taken to Cook County Hospital is unconstitutional and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Sheriff filed a motion to dismiss, which the district court granted on the ADA claims and denied for the other claims. The Sheriff filed an interlocutory appeal of the denial.

Taking all of May's allegations as true, the Seventh Circuit found that the Sheriff had a policy of shackling prisoners in the hospital 24 hours a day, despite round-the-clock armed guards. The Sheriff also had a policy of restricting or denying hospital prisoners access to attorneys, visitors, legal materials, telephones, typewriters, computers, magazines, and recreational activities. The policy also banned personnel from bringing hospital prisoners to scheduled court hearings. May claimed these policies prevented him from assisting in his own defense, denied him his constitutional right of access to courts, violated his due process rights, and constituted unconstitutional unequal treatment of similarly situated prisoners.

With the district court's permission, May filed two amended complaints while the appeal was pending. As an initial matter ...

$522,458 Rebate Ordered in California Prisoner Phone Overcharges

The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ordered MCI Telecommunications Corp. (MCI) to offset $522,458 in overcharges it made between June 14, 1996, and July 12, 1999, on MCI California Maximum Security Calls (i.e., California prisoner collect calls) by proportionately reducing the cost it charges for future such calls during its current contract with the California Department of Corrections (CDC). Although it was ruled that refunding the excess charges to the actual users would be impractical, individual users who have their own billing records may apply for personal refunds.

The May 2001 Order was the settlement reached by MCI, the PUC, and the complainant Utility Consumer Action Network (UCAN), a San Diego based ratepayer advocacy group. UCAN had filed a complaint in June 1999 stating that MCI had failed to bill its tariff rates, among other tariff violations, for California prisoners' collect calls. But because the details of the violations and the methodology for the calculation of the settlement amount were kept secret ("confidential" appendices B and C to the Settlement Agreement), it is impossible to say with any certainty that full amends were, in fact, made.

PLN readers should note that this settlement covers those California prisons under ...

California Racial Segregation Case Reversed; Phone Claim Dismissed

Holding that the action was not time-barred and otherwise stated an actionable claim, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s pro se action which claimed that California state prisons practiced racial segregation in housing prisoners. The Court upheld the dismissal of a claim that prison directors conspired with the telephone company to overcharge for prisoner telephone service.

In 1995, Garrison Johnson filed an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§1981, 1983, 1985, and 1986 seeking damages and declaratory relief. Johnson’s two primary claims were that the Director of the California Department of Corrections (CDC) instituted and enforced a policy which permitted racial discrimination in prisoner housing, and that the Director conspired with the telephone company to extort money from prisoners. The federal district court dismissed the case with prejudice holding that the action was time-barred and otherwise failed to state a claim.

Addressing the time-bar ruling, the Court of Appeals held that the California one-year statute of limitations is applicable to §1983 suits since §1983 does not contain its own statute of limitations and it is thus proper to use the state’s personal injury claim ...

California Dials Wrong Number

by W. Wisely

In reaction to bad publicity, lawsuits, and legislative hearings following a record number of fatal shootings of unarmed male prisoners, staged fights, and the sexual abuse and medical neglect of women prisoners, California established the allegedly independent Office of Inspector General within the state's Youth and Adult Correctional Agency. Posters were ordered to be put up at all department and Youth Authority facilities asking prisoners to report staff misconduct by calling a tollfree number. Unfortunately, neither the Department nor the Youth Authority will allow prisoners to make tollfree calls.

"We informed the Office of Inspector General of that," a spokes- woman for the Department told the Sacramento Bee . "But, they went ahead with the posters anyway." Martin Hoshino of the Inspector General's Office admitted the problem, but said there was no choice. "We're required [by a new state law] to put the posters up, and that's what we did," Hoshino told the newspaper.

The Inspector General's Office is optimistic a solution will be worked out. But, since last October, the Department and Youth Authority have both refused to change their rules to allow prisoners to report staff misconduct by using an 800 ...

Malicious Use of Force Violates Eighth Amendment

The Third Circuit held that in claims alleging the malicious use of force by prison guards the wantonness of the attack, rather than the degree of injury suffered, is the dispositive issue for courts reviewing such claims on summary judgment.

Pennsylvania state prisoner Alan Brooks filed suit claiming that prison guards terminated an approved phone call to his attorney by rushing him and repeatedly punching him in the head, slamming him into a wall, threatening him and choking himalmost rendering him unconsciousall while he was handcuffed to a waist chain. The only actual injuries Brooks suffered, however, were abrasions and scratches on his neck and hands.

Relying on the analysis in Norman v. Taylor , 25 F.3d 1259 (4th Cir. 1994)(en banc) of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Hudson v. McMillian , 503 U. S. 1, 112 S.Ct. 995 (1992), the District Court ruled that since the injuries were de minimis , that alone was conclusive proof that only de minimis force was used in the attack. In doing so, the Court did not follow the Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) standard for summary judgment, which is not to rule on the evidence itself, but only ...

Notes From the Unrepenitentiary: Whose Security?

Notes From The Unrepenitentiary: Whose Security?

by Marilyn Buck

Two children, both with mothers imprisoned at FCI Dublin, died within a two-week period. Both children were adolescent boys, aged 13 and 9, repectively. One of the children ran away from his abusive father's home. He froze to death sleeping in a church bus he'd found for shelter. The other child committed suicide. I can't tell you why. The bottom line is: these children didn't have their mothers home with them. Criminal "justice" in Amerika deemed that society was better off punishing these women. I don't think their children thought so.

These women are far from home. They seldom, if ever, saw their boys, who needed help, support and solace. Such is the situation of Federal prisoners all over the U.S., like state prisoners who are "housed" outside their home states; the same is true for prisoners in Pelican Bay, CA, or Attica and Clinton, NY.

Too many children are suffering grievously the loss of one or both parents to U.S. prison systems. We prisoners know that being an offender of the law doesn't make one a bad parent. Many are imprisoned precisely ...

Kentucky Phone Rate Ruling

A federal district court in Kentucky held that the filed rate doctrine barred any claims for money damages against Phone Company and county jail defendants. However, injunctive relief was still available. The court questioned the legality of an exclusive service provider contract.

In the August, 1999, issue of PLN we reported the filing of Daleure v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, class action lawsuit that challenged the phone rates charged by prisons and jails in Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana and Arizona. This ruling addresses the defendants' motion to dismiss the suit. In a footnote the court notes that in previous unpublished orders it has dismissed as defendants the states of Arizona, Missouri and Indiana for lack of personal jurisdiction and the state of Kentucky was dismissed based on its Eleventh amendment immunity. The Kentucky jails remain as defendants only for purposes of injunctive relief.

In their suit, the plaintiffs claimed that the high phone rates and exclusive phone contracts violated the Sherman Anti Trust Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1 and the equal protection clause. In this ruling the county jail and phone company defendants sought dismissal of the suit for failing to state a claim. The court granted the motion in part ...

Ohio 'Entrepreneur' Lands in Hot Water

An Ohio prisoner will spend an additional three years and three months in prison after pleading guilty to theft charges stemming from an elaborate credit card and telephone scam he ran from behind bars.

Lonny Lee Bristow, 27, was already serving a 9year 11month sentence at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, OH, for retaliation, aiding an escape, harassment by an inmate and telephone harassment, when he was convicted September 5, 2000 of three counts of theft.

Prison officials began investigating Bristow in December 1999 after he'd lost his telephone privileges for making threats and throwing something at a guard. Informants also told prison investigators that Bristow had been using a bogus credit card to make mailorder purchase by phone.

An internal prison investigative report obtained by the Columbus Dispatch revealed that Bristow stole the identity of Praveen Arcot after reading Arcot's name in a newspaper announcement of his hiring as a software engineer by a Columbus company.

Prison investigator David See told the Dispatch that Bristow devised a way to bypass security features on the automated inmate telephone system. That allowed him to call the Nelsonville, Ohio police department and, posing as a deputy from California ...

IL Prison Phone Ruling Published

In the June 2000, issue of PLN we reported that a federal district court in Illinois had dismissed a class action lawsuit challenging the phone rates charged to consumers who accept phone calls from prisoners in Illinois prisons and jails. The court's ruling is published at: Arsberry v. Illinois, 117 F. Supp.2d 743 (ND IL 2000).

The case is on appeal and PLN will report its outcome. A number of similar suits challenging prison jail phone rates have been dismissed by federal courts around the country and are on appeal. This is the first of those rulings to be published. Other suits challenging prison and jail phone rates in state courts are still pending.