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GOVERNOR SPITZER SIGNS FAMILY CONNECTIONS BILL, ENDS BACKDOOR TAX ON PRISON FAMILIES

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On July 19, 2007, Governor Eliot Spitzer signed into law the Family Connections bill, which states that prison telephone service is a right and not a revenue generator.

"Words cannot describe what this victory means to me - unless they are written on a phone bill that I can now afford to pay," said Cheri O'Donoghue, whose young son is incarcerated in New York State. "It is such a relief that I can now talk to my son more frequently without financial hardship."

For more than ten years, families of inmates have had no choice but to pay phone rates 630 percent higher than normal consumer rates to speak with their loved ones in New York State correctional facilities. In January, Governor Spitzer announced that New York State would forego its nearly 60 percent share of the obscene mark-up. But the corporate mark-up on the contract remained, still more than 200 percent higher than regular consumer rates.

In March, the contract was extended for one year as advocates continued discussions with elected officials and staff to ensure that future telephone systems focus on keeping families together, not on turning a profit. The new contract will take place on April 1, 2008.

The Family Connections bill, passed in June and signed into law by Governor Spitzer yesterday, centers on one common theme: that when determining the best value of such telephone service, the lowest possible cost to the telephone user shall be emphasized

"Everyone benefits when inmates stay connected to their families, and for most people this means contact over the phone. The State Legislature and Governor Spitzer have demonstrated their commitment to civil rights with the passage and signing of this bill,"said Annette Warren Dickerson, campaign coordinator for the NY Campaign for Telephone Justice on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). More than 80 percent of the State's prisoners come from poor New York City neighborhoods, according to the Albany-based Center for Law and Justice. With two-thirds of the prison facilities located three hours or more from New York City, telephone calls become a critical means for families to keep in touch.

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.