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Articles about Phone Justice

Detainee States Claim for Retaliation and Med Needs

The court of appeals for the seventh circuit has held that pretrial detainees are entitled to adequate medical care and have a right to be free from retaliation for complaining of guard misconduct. Richard Murphy was a pretrial detainee in the Tazwell and Mason county, Illinois, jails. He filed suit claiming that a guard closed a slot on his hand, breaking several bones. He was then denied appropriate medical care for the injury. After accusing the guard of breaking his hand, jail officials retaliated against him by shackling him to the floor of his cell and revoking his phone privileges. He also challenged his conditions of confinement at the jail. The district court dismissed the suit for failing to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b)(6).

The appeals court noted that it reviews all 12(b)(6) dismissals de novo, accepting as true all factual allegations in the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences from these facts in favor of the plaintiff. The court upheld dismissal of the claim that Murphy waited two hours after his hand was broken before being taken to the hospital. The delay occurred because the sheriff's permission was necessary before ...

NV Phone Rate Scalping Examined

In response to complaints from prisoners, family members and prison activists, the Nevada Public Service Commission (PSC) began work in December on a plan to regulate phone systems at jails and prisons. PSC Commissioner, Galen Denio, said he has to review testimony and documents from telephone companies and prison officials before deciding what action will be taken.

A proposed plan calls for caps on telephone rates charged to those who use phones in Nevada jails and prisons. Under the proposal, companies providing those phone services could charge no more than the highest rate of any long-distance company operating in the state. Operator surcharges on local calls would also be capped.

Though this may hardly sound like a good deal for prisonersCwho could still be charged the highest rates of any phone customers in the stateCit should provide considerable relief from the rate scalping that has been perpetrated on this Acaptive market.  Mark Collins of Mound House, who is a former sheriff's deputy, said he was recently billed $87 for a month's worth of calls to a friend in jail. He said the Nevada Bell rate for the same calls would have been $29. Collins said the same prisoner ...

9th Circuit Affirms Court Access Case

In a wide ranging ruling, a unanimous panel of the ninth circuit court of appeals affirmed most of a lower court ruling designed to ensure Arizona prisoners' right of access to the courts. In the May 1994 issue of PLN we reported Casey v. Lewis, 834 F. Supp. 1553 (DC AZ 1992) which held that the Arizona DOC's law libraries and legal assistance programs violated prisoners' right of access to the courts. Specifically, the court held that the following areas were constitutionally deficient: the contents of the law libraries; the access to the libraries; legal assistance for prisoners who were illiterate or non-English speaking; library staffing; the indigence standard in order to receive legal supplies; the photocopying policy that allowed the confidentiality of legal documents to be breached and limitations on prisoners' phone calls to their attorneys. After appointing a special master to assist in developing proper injunctive relief the court issued a permanent injunction requiring the ADOC to implement the legal access plan devised by the special master. The ADOC appealed, challenging the district court's findings of fact and conclusions of law, the scope of the injunctive relief ordered and the requirements that the ADOC pay the ...

6th Cir. Rules on BOP Phone Suit PI

The March and November, 1994, issues of PLN both contained extensive articles about Washington v. Reno, the nationwide class action suit that challenges numerous aspects of the Inmate Telephone System (ITS) in the process of being installed at federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities across the country. Copies of the above issues of PLN are still available for $1.00 each so we will assume reader familiarity with the scope and nature of the litigation and just report on this preliminary ruling. Readers will note that this is not a ruling on the merits of the case, rather, the appeals court ruled on the BOPs appeal from the district court issuing a Preliminary Injunction (PI) enjoining several aspects of the ITS.

The appeals court held that because the BOP had made many of the changes the plaintiffs had initially sought in their lawsuit, the PI issued by the lower court should be dissolved in part, modified in part and remanded to the lower court for a hearing on the merits of the case. This published decision discusses numerous aspects of the case, both those at issue in the complete litigation and those at issue in this appeal from the PI ...

CT Phone Suit Filed

The Connecticut Civil Liberties Union (CCLU) has filed suit against the Connecticut DOC over a phone monitoring system recently implemented by the DOC. Washington v. Meachum, Case No. CV-94-0534616S was certified as a state wide class action suit on May 3, 1994, in the state Supenor Court in Hartford.

The lawsuit claims that Connecticut state regulations §18-81-28 through 18-81-51, violate the Connecticut wiretapping statute, the Connecticut eavesdropping statute, the AIDS testing and Medical Information statute and the United States and Connecticut constitutions. The suit claims that the CT lacks the authority to adopt the phone and mail regulations in question. The regulations in question limit non-monitored attorney calls to less than 10 minutes such calls are also difficult for prisoners to place in the first place.

The regulations also allow the random opening at prisoner's outgoing mail. The suit claims this practice violates the federal and CT constitutions. [Editors Note: In Procunier V. Martinez the US Supreme court upheld prison rules allowing the opening and censorship of prisoners' outgoing mail.] The lawsuit seek damages, declaratory and injunctive relief.  A trial was held in July, 1994. We will report the verdict.

BOP Phone Litigation Update

In the March, 1994, issue of PLN we reported on Washington et al. v. Reno, et al., a lawsuit filed by women prisoners at FCI Lexington challenging the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) newly implemented Inmate Telephone System (ITS). [Editor's Note: For a full account of the ITS operations and the issues raised in the suit and the preliminary rulings please refer to the March, 1994, issue.] The suit was initially filed in May, 1993, and the court appointed counsel to represent the plaintiffs in the action. In the amended complaint, the plaintiffs challenge the ITS on grounds of free speech, due process, eighth amendment, equal protection and constitutional taxing powers. They also challenged the BOP's violation of its own administrative rules regarding the ability of prisoners to place collect calls and the BOP's failure to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The BOP's "Request for Telephone Privilege" was challenged under the Privacy Act as unduly intrusive. Also challenged was the BOP's attempt to condition phone use upon participation in the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFPR), i.e. payment of fines and such. The suit attacked the use of profits from the Commissary/Inmate ...

MA DOC Uses New Phone System

By Paul Wright

As part of the nationwide trend towards more restrictive and more expensive prison phone systems, the Massachusetts DOC signed a contract with NYNEX on January 27, 1994, for the provision of phone services to Massachusetts prisons. The new phone system includes monitoring and taping of all calls; the pre-approval by the prison warden of all numbers to be called; the listing, by name, of each person the prisoner will call; the limiting of total personal numbers to ten per prisoner; limiting of all attorney numbers to five. All calls are made by a recorded voice announcing that the call is coming from a prison. The length of calls is limited and the new system disallows use of third party and call waiting services. Prisoners seeking to change or add a number to their approved list (say a relative moves) can only do so once every three months.

In order to use the system prisoners must accept a Personal Identification Number (PINS). Massachusetts prisoners have actively resisted the imposition of the new phone system., which went on line in April, 1994. At Bay State, a prison housing mainly long term prisoners, of 266 prisoners only 17 took PINS ...

AZ DOC Denies Court Access

This case deals with a class action suit filed by Arizona state prisoners. They claimed that Arizona prison officials denied them access to the courts by enacting policies that unduly abridged their ability to file and litigate court actions. The district court ruled in the prisoners' favor on all counts.  This is an excellent ruling for jailhouse lawyers, especially those in control units.

The court ruled that the "paging system" for legal materials, where prisoners denied access to the prison law library must submit a request for specific legal materials to be brought to their cells, was constitutionally deficient and did not provide adequate access to the courts.

Untrained prisoner legal assistants cannot provide constitutionally adequate access to the courts for prisoners denied physical access to a law library. This is especially true for illiterate or non-English speaking prisoners for whom law books alone cannot ensure access to the courts. In the absence of a program providing prisoners with lawyers or paralegals the ADOC must maintain a sufficient number of minimally trained prisoner legal assistants.

To be adequate a prison law library must be staffed by a person with adequate legal training. A law library staffed only by security officers ...

Phone Company State Actor for Section 1983

Milton Griffin-El is a Missouri state prisoner. He filed suit against MCI Telecommunications Corporation and state prison officials over the phone company's practice of announcing to persons called by prisoners that the calls originated from a prison. The court upheld MCI's practice of paying it's 25% commission to the Missouri state General Revenue Fund rather than to the DOC's Human Resources Canteen Fund. Because this a developing area of prison law this case should be studied by those contemplating litigation concerning prison phone systems.

The district court ruled that by entering into a contract with the Missouri DOC, MCI became a state actor suable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The legal test to determine if a private party is or has become a state actor for 1983 purposes is whether the private party has acted with, or obtained significant aid from state officials or otherwise done as the state commands. See: Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co. Inc., 457 US 922, 102 S.Ct. 2744 (1982). In this case MCI and the Missouri DOC had a symbiotic relationship and both fiscally profited from it. See: Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 US 715, 81 S.Ct ...

Double Celling Pre-Trial Detainees Violates Due Process

Several animal rights protestors arrested while demonstrating against an annual pigeon shoot filed suit against Schuykill County Prison in Pennsylvania, and it's officials, alleging that the conditions of confinement during their stay at the prison violated their constitutional rights. The conditions complained of in the suit include: double celling of pre-trial detainees, blanket strip and body cavity searches of all arrestees and restricted telephone access during the first 48 hours of captivity. In several cases the plaintiffs spent up to two weeks sleeping on a mattress on the floor in a double cell or a common area. Prisoners were not allowed telephone access for the first 48 hours of confinement except for attorney, bail and family notification. All detainees were subjected to a visual body cavity and strip search under a blanket policy that made no distinctions for offenses, prior record or individual suspicion of having contraband.

The district court held that the sleeping arrangements in the prison, with all prisoners double celled or sleeping on the floors, violated their constitutional rights. Noting there is nothing unconstitutional per se about double celling, the court notes that forcing pretrial detainee to sleep on the floor imposes punishment which is forbidden ...