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Articles about Phone Justice

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 ...

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. 856 (1961).

The contract for phone services ...

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 by ...

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 who had been overcharged since June ...

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 participants are ...