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Articles about Phone Justice

Call Recipient's Rights Not Violated in Phone Taping

The court of appeals for the second circuit held that the rights of the free person accepting a collect call from a prisoner are not violated when the calls are taped and monitored by law enforcement officials. It also held prisoners consent to the taping of their calls if they know the calls are taped and use the phones anyway.

This case originated as a motion to suppress in a drug racketeering case that involved several murders as well as drug distribution. Donald Green was first convicted in state court and sent to a New York state prison where he continued his involvement in drug trafficking, issuing commands from prison over prison phones that were plainly labeled as being monitored. Derwin Rodgers received many of Green's calls outside the prison. At their criminal trial in federal court the defendants moved to suppress the incriminating tapes of Green's phone calls. The motion was denied, the defendants were convicted and appealed.

The relevant portion of the appeals court ruling was that dealing with the phone calls. The court rejected the argument that Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. § 2510-22 ...

ADA Requires Phones for Deaf

A federal district court in Michigan held that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12131 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, requires state prison officials to provide prisoners and the people they call with Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD). The court also held that the ADA and RA apply to state prisons and that congress has eliminated the states' eleventh amendment immunity by passage of the two acts. Because the ADA is a still developing area of law we report this case in detail. This case is also important because the disabled person involved was not the prisoner but a prisoner's visitor. The court held that ADA's provisions forbidding retaliation against those who report ADA violations applies to prisons.

Grant Hendrick is a Michigan state prisoner who can hear, his fiancee Linda Niece is deaf. Because Niece is deaf she cannot communicate over the phone with Hendrick without the use of a TDD (this device is a keyboard and screen which hooks up to a phone and allows parties to type messages to each other. AT&T offers a TDD service via operator at no charge but it must be accessed by calling a toll free number.) Niece attempted to donate a TDD to the prison to allow Hendrick to call her and for deaf prisoners at the prison to communicate by phone. Prison officials refused the donation and refused to provide access to a TDD. The MI DOC does not allow for toll free calls and prison officials refused to make an exception so Hendrick could call AT&T's free TDD service.

Hendrick filed an ADA complaint with the Department of Justice against the MI DOC. Under DOJ pressure the MI DOC made plans to install a TDD system at a maximum security prison, Hendrick was held at a minimum security prison. The MI DOC then moved Hendrick to the maximum security prison ostensibly to use a TDD. Hendrick complained that he was being retaliated against. After a DOJ investigator told prison officials he was referring the case to the US attorney's office for prosecution for retaliating against Hendrick the defendants moved Hendrick back to minimum security, compensated him for lost wages and reinstated his job. Eventually a TDD was installed but its access was severely limited; prisoners could only use it in a counselor's office at the ...

ADA Ruling for Deaf New York Prisoners

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of NY ruled in favor of hearing impaired New York prisoners litigating a number of constitutional and statutory issues relating to the imprisonment of hearing impaired prisoners. The court held that the defendants, New York Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), violated all statutes and constitutional provisions under which the prisoner plaintiff class sought relief, thus warranting declaratory and injunctive relief. The court provides a thorough analysis of the rights of hearing impaired prisoners under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This ruling will be of interest to prisoners litigating under those statutes, particularly hearing impaired prisoners.

Declaratory judgment was granted to the prisoner plaintiffs in the following areas: The failure of DOCS to "provide interpretive services for various aspects of reception and classification;" the "absence or inadequacy of assistive communications devices for telephone and television and the absence of visual safety alarms violates both the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act;" the DOCS failed "to make reasonable accommodations to facilitate full participation by class members in educational, vocational and rehabilitative contexts such as classes and counseling sessions ... ;" DOCS failed "to provide qualified interpreters and/or other assistive devices during medical ...

No Right to Unmonitored Prison Calls

The court of appeals for the ninth circuit held that pretrial detainees and prisoners retain no statutory or constitutional right to privacy in their outgoing phone calls. From the outset readers should note this is a criminal case, not a civil rights action challenging a prison or jail phone monitoring/recording policy. Jeffrey Van Poyck was placed in the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) on bank robbery charges. Upon arrival he signed forms acknowledging all phone calls were recorded and monitored and that by signing the form he was consenting to the recording. After signing the form Van Poyck duly used the phone and promptly incriminated himself. The district court denied his motion to suppress the incriminating recordings. The appeals court affirmed.

The court analyzed Van Poyck's claims under the fourth amendment and concluded that prisoners and detainees have no subjective right to privacy in their outgoing calls. Numerous cases where courts have declined to suppress incriminating prison phone calls were cited. "We hold that any expectation of privacy in outbound calls from prison is not objectively reasonable and that the Fourth Amendment is therefore not triggered by the routine taping of such calls." The court also noted that Van ...

Phone Activist Seeks Info

In late 1994 I asked you to publish a request for information regarding prisoners whose friends and families have had to pay for collect calls which the prisoners didn't make.

I received several replies, and ended up maintaining correspondence with one prisoner. With his help I filed suit in federal court against AT&T and the prison system where my friend is incarcerated. I filed this suit after all my requests for reimbursement were denied. Not only were there calls made after 9:00 p.m., when the phones were turned off, and calls made when she was physically locked in her cell for the night, but calls were also made during daytime and nighttime cell counts. Although they were on my telephone bills, they were not (could not have been) placed by my friend nor received by me.

I am again appealing for information from other prisoners who have had to deal with this--particularly with AT&T, but also with any other telephone companies.

If enough people have had to pay these fraudulent charges to AT&T in order to keep their telephone service, perhaps (just perhaps) I could interest a law firm in handling a class action ...

Florida Utilities Commission Refunds Phone Kickbacks

The June, 1996, issue of PLN reported that the contract to provide phone services to Florida state prisoners was awarded without competitive bidding in circumstances strongly suggesting corruption. Since 1987 Florida prisoners have been allowed to make collect calls to friends and families, providing the proverbial captive market to phone companies holding the contracts to provide such services. The state, i.e., the DOC, gets kickbacks in the form of commissions.

An investigation by the Florida Public Service Commission determined that North American Intelecom Inc. (NAI), of San Antonio, Texas, had fraudulently overbilled consumers who accepted collect calls from Florida prisoners. In one case a woman was billed for calls from 200 miles away even though they were made from a prison 26 miles away. When PSC investigators made test calls from prisons they found the charges were inflated by as much as 30%. A 34 second call was billed as three minutes! NAI agreed with the PSC to refund $400,000 to consumers who accepted calls from Florida prisoners in recent years.

A 1992 PSC memorandum indicated this problem was likely to arise because phone companies could not afford to pay big kickbacks to the state, now averaging 50 ...

BOP Phone Suit Settled

In the March and November, 1994 and March, 1995, issues of PLN we reported developments in Washington v. Reno, a class action suit filed by federal prisoners which challenged numerous aspects of a new phone system imposed by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). (Back issues are available for $5.00 each.) On November 23, 1995, judge Henry Wilhoit, based in Lexington, Kentucky, approved the settlement dismissing the suit. Because we have already extensively reported the litigation and facts in the case in previous issues of PLN this article will only summarize the settlement itself. The settlement was made available to all BOP prisoners via their prison law libraries.

Collect Calls: Under the settlement the BOP must award a phone contract that will enable all BOP prisoners to place collect calls in addition to debit calls (where the prisoner pays for the call by buying phone credits on the commissary). For a four year period, starting from when the agreement is signed, the BOP must allow all prisoners to make at least 120 minutes of collect calls a month, in addition to debit calls. The BOP may require that the collect calls be placed to numbers on the prisoner's official ...

Prisoner Accounts Add Up to Millions

The U.S. prison population has tripled in the last fifteen years and now stands at well over a million. But the number of bodies is not the only statistic that has grown. According to the Newhouse News Service, 1995 saw record sums of money move through prisoner accounts: In California, $64 million; in Florida, $50 million; in Ohio, $33 million.

Most of the money is spent on staples such as cigarettes, coffee, snacks, and toiletries. But even after these deductions, according to calculations by Newhouse, prisoner accounts added up to a staggering $100 million balance.

Collectively prisoners are big business. Communications giant AT&T Corp, for instance, estimates that prisoners placed about $1 billion in long-distance calls last year.

States are scrambling to upgrade or streamline their prisoner accounting systems. In Texas, for instance, prisoners use debit cards, similar to ATM cards, to make purchases at the commissary. These purchases are automatically deducted from their accounts by an electronic system that links the state's 100-plus prisons.

New York has a more antiquated accounting system. The state closes an account and opens another for each prisoner at a local bank every time the prisoner is transferred from one prison ...

Washington Legislation Passed

The Washington legislature was in session for a mercifully short 60 day session between January and March, 1996. In that period several hundred anti-prisoner and anti-defendant bills were introduced, at a cost of $1,500 each. While several passed the legislature about half of those passed were vetoed by governor Mike Lowry. The following bills were signed into law:

HB 2195: This law modifies RCW 9.73.095 and allows for the electronic monitoring of all telephonic and non-telephonic conversations in prison living units, cells, rooms, dormitories and common spaces where prisoners may be present. The law requires the DOC to notify visitors, staff and prisoners of this law in writing. The law doesn't effect any real change as the WA DOC has electronically recorded conversations in visiting rooms, cells, common areas, etc., for years. This bill was introduced at the DOC's request.

HB 2320: This is also known as the "Two Strikes Rape Bill." It modifies the 3 strikes law, RCW 9.94A.030, by requiring only a second conviction for any defendant convicted a second time of the following offenses: first and second degree rape; indecent liberties by forcible compulsion; and any of the following offenses ...

Massachusetts Phone Injunction Affirmed

The court of appeals for the first circuit affirmed a district court's contempt finding against prison officials concerning the monitoring and taping of prisoners' phone calls. In 1979 William Langton and David LeBlanc filed suit against Massachusetts prison officials over the interception and monitoring of their phone calls, including calls to counsel and to relatives. They contend the monitoring violated state and federal wiretapping statutes, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 2510 et seq., and Mass.Gen.L. ch. 272, § 99 et seq. In 1984 the parties entered into settlement negotiations and settled the case with a permanent injunction which provided that the MA DOC was prohibited from "intercepting, endeavoring to intercept or procuring any other person to intercept, any wire communication by or to William Langton or David LeBlanc, inmates within the custody of the Department, without a specific court order or legislative authorization to do so..." By its terms it only affected the rights of Langton and LeBlanc.

In April, 1994, the MA DOC enacted new regulations concerning prisoner phone use, 103 C.M.R. § 482.00. The rules implemented a system of monitoring prisoner calls and required prisoners to sign a form "consenting" to have their ...