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Articles about Phone Justice

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 calls monitored or be deprived of ...

Phone Graft in Florida

Competing telephone companies submitted bids to provide "inmate phone services" to 35 Florida prisons. The contract was awarded to North American Intelecom (NAI) Inc. over rival MCI Telecommunications. MCI filed a protest based on the fact that they scored higher than NAI in the Department of Corrections' bid ranking system. MCI's protest prompted an investigation of the matter by governor Lawton Chiles.

On February 19, an investigator from the governor's office urged that two DOC officials be disciplined for destroying public documents related to the telephone contract bidding process. DOC Secretary Harry Singletary said he was reviewing the investigator's report and that unspecified "disciplinary actions will be taken" against Assistant Secretary Ron Kronenberger and chief of the DOC's bureau of general services, Jim Morris.

The report said that Kronenberger and Morris ordered underlings to destroy internal memos which had recommended awarding the contract to MCI. According to the report, Kronenberger and Morris claimed to have awarded the contract to NAI because it would have given more money back to the state (kick-back) from the toll calls. The report also stated, however, that the state share of the profits was already factored into the bid rankings and that NAI had a ...

Nevada Utilities Commission Caps Prison Phone Rates

In the July, 1995, issue of PLN we reported that the Nevada Public Service Commission (PSC) was considering putting an end to the extortionate phone rates paid by people who accepted collect calls from Nevada state prisoners. On September 12, 1995, the PSC announced that the rates charged for prison collect calls would be capped at the highest rate charged by any long distance carrier operating in the state.

The PSC's action was prompted by widespread complaints received by prisoners' family members, many of whom could ill afford the excessive phone bills. Examples cited by the commission were a Las Vegas woman who spoke to her son in a rural Nevada jail for 30 minutes and was charged $85. A Winnemucca jail prisoner called a friend in Eureka, spoke for five minutes and the person called was billed $16, four times the typical rate charged by other long distance companies.

In June, 1995, the Nevada DOC signed a contract with Sprint Communications to exclusively handle collect calls by prisoners. Sprint promptly increased the rate to three to five times higher than what local phone companies had been charging. Rick Hackman, of the PSC's Consumer Division, said "This has been a ...

Washington Court Access Suit Settled

In the April, 1994, issue of PLN we reported the filing of Scott v. Peterson which challenged numerous aspects of court access for Washington state prisoners. On October 31, 1995, most of the suit was settled and the settlement terms were effective November 30, 1995. The settlement is between five named plaintiffs and DOC officials but affects all prisoners in Washington. It is important to note that this is not a class action suit and no prisoners are foreclosed from suing over court access issues. The agreement in this action can only be enforced for a twenty-four month period. Whether the DOC will abide by its terms after that remains to be seen.

Copies: The most important win in the case was that the cost of legal copies was reduced from 20 to 10 cents per page for "all copies of legal pleadings to be filed and/or served in conjunction with the inmate's case." All legal copies must be made in the prisoner's presence and will not be made for anyone else. If the copies cannot be made at the time of request the prisoner can either return at "a reasonable, specific time for the copying to be accomplished" or ...

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 he could be taken from the jail. ...

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's wife was ...

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 Special Master's ...

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.

The ...

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 Welfare Fund, a statutory trust, to purchase ...