Law suits challenge prison phone rates

Suit filed in Illinois

From Prison Legal News


On May 5 1999, a class action suit was filed by Illinois consumers who receive collect calls from Illinois state and county jail prisoners, alleging that they are forced to pay exorbitant phone rates as a result of an illegal conspiracy between phone companies, the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC), and some county jails. The plaintiffs include the unimprisoned spouses, parents and siblings of prisoners and a legal services group.

The defendants are the state of Illinois, the Illinois counties of DuPage, Cook, and Kane, and telephone companies ATT, Invision Telecom, MCI Telecommunications Corporation and Consolidated Communications Public Services, Inc. The plaintiffs allege that the exclusive phone service agreements entered into by the phone company and prison/jail defendants result in those who receive collect calls from prisoners being charged excessive rates and surcharges. The contracts result in huge kickbacks, up to 50% of gross billed revenues, to the jails and prison systems who enter into these exclusive use contracts.

The complaint alleges that these exclusive contracts, and the resulting excessive costs, constitute an illegal monopoly and violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the First, Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Illinois state constitution and the Illinois Anti-Trust Act. The plaintiff class consists of all families, lawyers and bill payer plaintiffs who are billed for phone calls initiated by prisoners confined to a jail or prison operated by the state and county defendants. The prisoner plaintiffs are all people confined to facilities operated by the state and county defendants. As relief, the plaintiffs are seeking a declaratory judgment that the current practices by the defendants are illegal; injunctive relief enjoining thc illegal practices; monetary compensation for the losses incurred by the plaintiffs; compensatory and punitive damages and treble damages under the Sherman Act and attorney fees and costs. The plaintiffs have filed a motion for a Preliminary Injunction, which is scheduled for a hearing before Judge Manning in September 1999. Thc plaintiffs are seeking to preliminarily enjoin the state and county defendants from prohibiting alternative calling options and to enjoin all "commissions" to the government defendants, and to place all Illinois prison and jail phone funds in an escrow account until thc litigation is concluded.

PLN will report the outcome of the litigation. Thc plaintiffs are represented by veteran civil rights lawyer Michael Deutsch of the Center for Constitutional Rights. See: Arsberry v. State of Illinois, USDC ND IL, Case No. 99-C-2457.

Phone Rates Challenged in KY, MO, IN and AZ

In 1997 a class action suit was filed against the Commonwealth of Kentucky; the Kentucky DOC; the state of Missouri; the Kentucky counties of Grayson, Oldham, Bullit, LaRue, Franklin and Jefferson; thc sheriff and county of Clark in Indiana and thc Board of Supervisors of Pima County, Arizona; MCI Telecommunications Corp.; Invision Telecom Inc.; LDDS Worldcom Inc.; Gateway Technologies and Security Telecom Corp. The plaintiffs are attorneys and citizens primarily residing in Kentucky who receive collect calls from prisoners in the Kentucky and Missouri DOCs, and from prisoners in the jails operated by the county defendants in Kentucky, Arizona and Indiana.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants entered into exclusive phone service contracts preventing any choice of carrier for the plaintiffs, resulting in substantially higher phone rates than those paid to accept non-prisoner collect calls. The complaint alleges the phone company defendants then pay the state and county defendants substantial kickbacks skimmed from the excessive fees they charge consumers. Thc plaintiffs allege that the excessive fees are the result of an illegal monopoly and conspiracy among the defendants.

The plaintiffs claim the defendants are in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, the Robinson-Patman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 13, and the equal protection clause of the l4th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, treble damages and attorney fees and costs. PLN has been monitoring the suit since it was filed. The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss which has yet to be ruled on as far as PLN knows. The Kentucky Public Utilities Commission has granted substantial relief to the Kentucky plaintiffs. The plaintiffs are represented by Kentucky lawyers F. Thomas Conway and Bart Adams. PLN will report the outcome of the litigation. See Daleure v. Kentucky, USDC WD KY, Louisville Division, Case No. 3:97CV-709H.

Similar litigation challenging excessive prison and jail phone rates is being planned in other states around the country, including California and Washington.
PLN will report on these suits as they are filed as well as significant developments in the cases. PLN has extensively reported on prison and jail phone issues in the past.
The prison and jail collect call market is a billion-dollar a year business with prisons and jails receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in kickbacks annually. While rate payers have received relief from state utility commissions in Louisiana, Nevada and Kentucky, other state utilities commissions have been totally unresponsive to the issue.

Prison Legal News
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FCC cracks down on prison phones

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued new regulations mandating the disclosure of rates consumers will actually pay for collect phone calls received from prisoners. Effective October 1, 1999, 47 C.F.R. § 67.710 ''Operator Services for Prison inmate phones,'' states in its entirety:

''(a) Each provider of inmate operator services shall:
Identify itself, audibly and distinctly, to the consumer before connecting any interstate, domestic, interexchange telephone call and disclose immediately hereafter how the consumer may obtain rate quotations, by dialing no more than two digits or remaining on the line, for the first minute of the call and for additional minutes, before providing further oral advice to the consumer how to proceed to make the call;
''(1) Permit the consumer to terminate the telephone call at no charge before the call is connected; and
"(2) Disclose immediately to the consumer, upon request and at no charge to the consumer
"(i) The methods by which its rates or charges for the call will be collected, and
"(ii) The methods by which complaints concerning such rates, charges or collection practices will be resolved.
"(3) Inmate telephone services means any interstate telecommunication service initiated from an inmate telephone that includes, as a component any automatic or live assistance to a consumer to arrange for billing or completion, or both, of an interstate telephone call through a method other than:
"(i) Automatic completion with billing to the telephone from which the call originated; or
"(ii) Completion through an access code used by the consumer, with billing to an account previously established with the carrier by the consumer;
"(4) Provider of inmate operator services means any common carrier that provides outbound interstate, domestic interexchange operator services from inmate telephones."
If, after October 1, 1999, prison phone providers are not disclosing this information in out of state phone calls, prisoners and call recipients alike should complain to the FCC, prison officials and phone service providers.

FCC Complaints should go to:

FCC · Common Carrier Bureau
Enforcement Division
Consumer Complaints, Stop 1600 AZ
Washington, DC 20554