The Progressive


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For Immediate Release

Legality of Prison Telephone Rates Argued in Court

CCR Asks NY State to Compensate Families for Millions Paid in Illegal Tax


Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) challenges the constitutionality of the unlawful tax levied on families who received collect calls at exorbitant rates from their loved ones in New York State prison. CCR is seeking refunds for the men and women who were the victims of 10 years of a kickback contract that gave New York State 57.5 percent of the phone company's profits.

The State of New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division Third Judicial Department will hear oral arguments in Walton v. New York State Department of Correctional Services (NYSDOCS) at 1 p.m. at Empire State Plaza, Justice Building Room 511, Albany, NY 12223.

"We worked with Governor Spitzer and the legislature to end this injustice to families of prisoners," said CCR attorney Darius Charney, who argues the case today. "But we still need the court to declare that plaintiffs' rights were violated so no future administration can bring back the kickback, and to require the State to compensate the people who were injured by its past illegal actions. The lower court clearly didn't take the ruling of the highest court in the state seriously, so we're turning to the Appellate Division to make it right."

For more than ten years, families of inmates in New York State paid phone rates 630 percent higher than normal consumer rates to speak with their loved ones. Until Governor Spitzer ended the practice in January 2007, the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and MCI had a contract under which DOCS received 57.5 percent of MCI's profits from their prison collect calls, the only way families were permitted to speak by phone. The system was arranged to award the contract to the highest bidder who would provide the highest kickback to the State, not the lowest rate to the families.

Walton challenges the kickback as an illegal tax that burdened the family members' constitutional right to freedom of speech and association and violated equal protection and due process. Today's argument asks the Appellate Division to reverse the most recent dismissal in the case and allow the families finally to be compensated for 10 years of an unjust, illegal tax that amounted to $225 million.

"I couldn't afford to talk to my son at those rates," said lead plaintiff Ivey Walton. "No one should be cut off from their family just so the State can make a profit. I'm praying the courts will correct this injustice and pay back the families New York exploited for so many years."

The 2004 case was initially dismissed, but that decision was reversed in February 2007 by the Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York State, which sent it back to the lower court. Judge George Ceresia of the Supreme Court of New York, Albany County, dismissed the case again in December 2007.

Juan Cartagena, General Counsel, and Craig Acorn, Associate Counsel, of the Community Service Society are co-counsel in the case.

For more information on the prison telephone case, click here.

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. CCR is committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

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