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CCR Welcomes the Family Connections Bill Introduced by New York Assemblymembers to Reform Prison Prison Phone System

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“It is an injustice that families of inmates are forced to pay this backdoor tax,” said Assemblyman Aubry, Chair of the Assembly Correction Committee. “This is a public safety issue because it disrupts the need for families of inmates to maintain relationships with their loved ones, who will ultimately return to the community.”

The Family Connections Bill (A.7231/S.5299) would amend the New York State Corrections Law to provide prisoners with fair-market telephone rates. Currently, for a family member to speak with a loved one in a DOCS facility, the prisoner must place a collect call, for which MCI charges $3 to initiate the call and 16¢ per minute. The average prison phone call is billed at 19 minutes, costing just over $6—a mark up of 630% over consumer rates. DOCS gets a 57.5 percent kickback on MCI’s profits.

This backdoor tax costs family members hundreds of dollars a month—and this is money that could be spent on family needs such as groceries, heat and rent,” said Assemblymember Adriano Espaillat, Chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. “There is no reason to let MCI prey on these families, especially when you consider that the family of MCI’s former CEO, Bernie Ebbers, will pay far less with Ebbers serving time in a Federal facility where they have much better rates.”

"This bill will ensure that inmates will have the ability to call their families without the outrageous prices they have been previously charged, while protecting against recidivism," said Assemblymember Herman D. Farrell, Jr., Chair of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

CJ, who lives in Albany and whose father has been in a New York State prison since she was little, said, “The Pataki Administration and MCI should not profit off of my relationship with my father. We shouldn’t have to choose between buying groceries and paying the phone bill, but that’s what this contract does to us. Hopefully, the Family Connections Bill will put an end to this once and for all.”

Ron Daniels, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “Phone service should help facilitate contact between prisoners and their families, not create a barrier. Maintaining a kickback contract with rates this high is a threat to the welfare of the community.”

The Family Connections Bill would end this unjust, back-door tax on prison families by:

  • Prohibiting the State from entering into a similar contract once the current contract expires on March 31, 2006.
  • Requiring that in the future the state contract with the lowest bidder for the purposes of providing telephone services to inmates.
  • Preventing the State from making a profit off of the arrangement. Currently the State takes 57.5% of the total profit.
  • Presenting facilities with the choice of providing phone service through collect calls or a debit card service.
  • Allowing prisoners to maintain contact with their loved ones by lowering phone rates. Currently families are forced to choose between buying food or paying rent and paying their telephone bill.

The Family Connections Bill is sponsored in the Assembly by New York Assemblymembers Jeffrion L. Aubry, Adriano Espaillat, Herman D. Farrell, Jr., Joan Millman, and William F. Boyland, Jr., and in the Senate by Senator Michael F. Nozzolio.

“It is easy to take advantage of people who do not have a voice,” said Wanda Best-Deveaux, a Queens, NY, resident whose husband was released last year. “But family members of prisoners do not deserve to be taxed because they have a loved one in prison. The MCI contract with the Department of Corrections not only takes advantage of us as we work to keep our families together, it punishes us when we haven’t committed any crime.”

The New York Campaign for Telephone Justice works to end the kickback contract between MCI and the New York State Department of Correctional Services, and deliver choice, affordability, and equitable service to the families and friends of those incarcerated in New York State. The campaign is a project of the Center for Constitutional Rights, in partnership with Prison Families of New York, Inc.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.