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Victory for Families of New York

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Governor Spitzer to End Backdoor Tax on Prison Phone Contract

Families in New York with a loved one in prison won a long-awaited victory on January 8, 2007 when Governor Spitzer committed to end the burdensome, back door tax on collect calls to inmates' families.

Since 1996, families of inmates have had no choice but to pay phone rates 630% the normal consumer rates to speak with their loved ones. And for the past 11 years, New York State has been collecting nearly 60 percent of the profits of these charges, $16 million in 2005. Family members have complained that the exorbitant phone rates forced them to choose between maintaining their relationship with a loved one and putting food on the table.

Governor Spitzer declared that instead of raising funds via a backdoor tax imposed on the family members of inmates, the state will pay for mandated services in prisons using the State's General Fund. Families should begin realizing savings in early April, when the General Fund will assume costs for these mandates services, including health care and family-based programs.

"This is a victory for all New Yorkers because increased contact with family members is proven to reduce recidivism rates after release," said Annette Dickerson, coordinator for the NY Campaign for Telephone Justice on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). "Everyone benefits when inmates stay connected to their families, and for most people this means contact over the phone. Governor Spitzer has demonstrated his commitment to civil rights. The unlawful tax was flatly unconstitutional."

"Thank you Governor Spitzer, you are righting a major wrong," said Ivey Walton, a prison family member. "This contract was ridiculous and illegal. Soon, no one will be cut off from their family just so the Department of Corrections and some telephone company can make a profit."

"We commend Governor Spitzer for standing up for innocent family members and doing what's fair for all New Yorkers," said Alison Coleman, Director of Prison Families of New York, Inc. a partner in the campaign. "By halting this backdoor tax Governor Spitzer and his administration have effectively stalled the contract with Verizon from renewing automatically. We're thankful that at last we have a Governor who is acting in the people's interest, not defending corporate profiteering and the bureaucratic status quo."

The New York Campaign for Telephone Justice works to end the kickback contract between MCI (doing business as Verizon) 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. and Prison Families Community Forum.

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.