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Byrd v. Goord

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Synopsis

Byrd v. Goord is a civil rights case that challenged the collect-call only telephone service for prison inmates operated by the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS).

Description

On March 21, 2000, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a civil rights action on behalf of the families, friends, ministers, counselors, and lawyers of inmates confined in the 70 correctional facilities operated by the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) to challenge the single provider, collect-call only telephone service available to inmates. The named plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, sought a judgment declaring that the single provider, collect-call-only system violated rights guaranteed to them under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution; Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution; Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act; and New York State statutory and common law. They further sought injunctive relief that would restrain the defendants from continuing to utilize that system and requested an accounting of revenues derived from the collect-call-only system.

DOCS sharply limits and tightly regulates telephone usage by individuals incarcerated in its facilities. Inmates could not receive telephone calls and could place telephone calls on a collect call-only basis through a single telephone company, MCI Telecommunications Corporation, a subsidiary of MCI WorldCom, Inc. DOCS granted exclusive privileges to this company through 2001 to provide telephone service to inmates. Since MCI retained sole ownership of these calls, it maintained steep charges which sharply limited the duration and number of telephone calls inmates could make and that family, friends, and counsel could afford to accept.

For the many individuals who seek to maintain their relationships with the more than 70,000 persons incarcerated in state facilities, this system placed an unlawful and unjustifiable burden on their constitutionally-guaranteed rights to freedom of speech and association, equal protection, and due process under the law. While both the government and telephone company coffers were being enriched, the costs of the system were plainly borne by those with no options and no power to fight such a powerful monopoly.

On May 26, 2000, the defendants moved to dismiss the case. Oral arguments on the motions were heard in November 2000. While the motion to dismiss was pending, MCI WorldCom filed for bankruptcy. Although the case was initially sent to the bankruptcy judge for disposition, it was eventually returned to federal district Judge George Daniels for decision.

On August 30, 2005, the federal court upheld the constitutional rights of the inmates, their families, friends, and counselors, when they ruled that the contracts between MCI WorldCom and DOCS were unfair and unconstitutional.