Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Court ruling stops MCI and The New York Department of Corrections from gouging poor families of the incarcerated
Approximately three years ago I found out about how MCI and the New York Department of corrections were punishing the families of the encarcerated by imposing exceptionally high fees for telephone usage between inmates and their familes. Inmates were only permitted to make collect calls using only one provider (MCI). The NYSDOS received a 60% commission kickback. This outrageous policy has earned has extracted $125 million from families who incomes are very limited. At that time I was using MCI and I immediately changed to Working Assets, a socially conscious long distance carrier. I was surprised by how little press this issue received. This morning I was pleased to see that finally something is going to done to end this heinous practice. CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) reported: "Currently, the only way for families to speak with their loved ones in most state prisons is for prisoners to call collect, and family members who accept the calls must accept the terms dictated by the phone company. Since states receive kickback commissions from the phone companies who receive the contract, there is no incentive to seek competitive bids. The contract goes to the company that provides the highest kickback, not the lowest fees. Rates for such calls are set well above market rates: in New York State, families pay a $3 connection fee and 16¢ per minute a 630 percent mark up over regular residential consumer rates. Current rates at Federal prisons are as low as 7¢ a minute. Meanwhile, those who accept these calls face staggering bills and must often choose between basic necessities and the chance to speak with their loved ones. Since prisoners come disproportionately from poor communities, the burden of staying in touch falls heaviest on those with the least ability to pay" This is a victory for the prisoners of New York but parasitic telephone companies like MCI do exist in other states, making huge fortunes by continuing to drain the meager finances of the poor. The families of the incarcerated may not have won the war, but they have certainly won a battle.