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Articles about Phone Justice

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 ...

LA Prisoners Boycott Phones

By Paul Wright

In June of 1993 Global Tel-Link won a 3 year contract with the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections to install about 875 phones and handle all collect calls placed from the state's 16 adult and juvenile facilities. The company, which mentioned the "profitability of prisons" in its bid document, agreed to pay the state at least $5 million annually in commissions. Global's revenues come from the persons who accept the collect calls placed by the prisoners.

Since taking over the phone services Global has massively increased the rate it charges for the calls. For example, a 15 minute call from the prison at Angola to New Orleans increased from $3.60 to $6.90. This increase led to a mass number of complaints being filed by prisoners, their families, advocates and attorneys with prison officials and the Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC). They also complained that the quality of service has declined with callers unable to hear each other.

Noting that, in violation of it's contract, Global was charging higher rates than other local carriers such as ATT, Corrections Undersecretary James LeBlanc ordered Global to reduce it's rates and reimburse customers ...

Court Enjoins BOP Phone System

On October 13, 1993, Judge Henry Wilhoit of the U.S. District Court in Kentucky entered a preliminary injunction barring the federal Bureau of Prisons from implementing its Inmate Telephone System (ITS). The case is Washington v. Reno, case number 93-217 and 93-290. Readers should note that so far this is an unpublished opinion that cannot be cited for precedent, but it does affect all BOP facilities in the U.S.

Conchita Washington and several other prisoners at the federal prison for women in Lexington, Kentucky, filed suit claiming that the BOP is ITS discriminates against poor and disabled prisoners. The BOP began implementing a phone system, ITS, which changed its phone system from one which allowed collect calls only to one which is direct dial requiring prisoners to pay for the calls. In order to be able to make phone calls prisoners must also participate in the "Inmate Financial Responsibility Program," IFRP. The IFRP is a coercive program designed to force prisoners to pay all fines, restitution, etc. All funds received by a prisoner from any source are subjected to IFRP collection. Thus, prisoners who do not wish to participate in the IFRP receive virtually no phone privileges. Non-IFRP ...

Death Row Prisoners Entitled to Limited Contact Attorney Visits

This case involves a class action suit filed by Oklahoma death row prisoners and prisoners in the control unit of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. The case provides a revealing look at the mentality driving the construction of control units.

The OSP control unit is called H Unit. It was opened in November of 1991, planned and designed by an informal DOC committee. The court states: "The philosophy and design of the new unit were modeled on the federal penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, the highest security facility in the federal prison system. There is no direct proof or reasonable inference that this non-contact philosophy was in response to any specific act or situation that existed in H block. Rather, it appears to be a general philosophy that the less the contact the less the danger."

When H Unit opened prison officials had made no provision for confidential attorney visitation. The current attorney-client visitation provisions are what is being challenged in this suit. The accommodations have the attorney separated from his client by grated plexiglass and a barred window. There is a pass-through space 16 inches wide and 4 inches high. All the attorneys and clients who have used the cubicle testified ...

Pro Se Detainee Has Access Rights

A detainee held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) at San Diego, named Gust Janis, was awaiting trial on federal drug manufacturing and possession charges. Janis was also involved in a number of other criminal and civil cases, telling the court he has some sixty-seven civil actions pending. Janis filed a motion, in connection with his criminal case, claiming that his right of access to the courts was effectively denied by various shortcoming in the legal research facilities at the jail (MCC).

The threshold question was whether the right of access to the courts includes general civil litigation, as the issue had not been squarely addressed in the ninth circuit. The district court adopted the reasoning of the fifth and eleventh circuits, holding that the constitutional right of access to the courts includes access for general civil legal matters. This was an issue because the MCC law library did not provide materials for civil research.

The court ordered that Janis be given access to state law on various subjects (because of the detainers on him from several states), that selected civil law books be provided to him, that the federal criminal law in the jail's law library be expanded ...