On January 9, 2007, Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) will argue that the New York State Court of Appeals should stop the state government and the telephone service provider from charging exorbitant phone rates to families of prisoners in Walton v. New York State Department of Correctional Services (NYSDOCS).
For someone incarcerated in a New York State prison to speak with a loved one, they must call collect through MCI. Under the current contract families are charged a $3 initiation fee and 16¢ a minute, 630% more than typical consumer rates for phone calls. Verizon merged with MCI last year and recently attempted to sell off the contract to an Alabama-based company, Global Tel Link.
More egregious, New York State collects a 57.5% kickback from the phone company's profits. In 2005 New York State received $16 million from this backdoor tax. NYSDOCS has amassed over $200 million from prison families since the contract's inception in 1996 during former Governor Pataki's first term.
CCR will argue that Appellants' challenge to the prison telephone system is timely, and that the Court should allow Appellants to prove that their right to due to process, freedom of speech and association, and equal protection under the law are violated by the gross and discriminatory tax levied by NYSDOCS without legislative authorization.
Thirty-eight organizations, over 50 individuals and 15 elected officials filed "Friend of the Court" briefs in support of this appeal including the Public Advocate for the City of New York, the Legal Aid Society, and the Innocence Project.
"Today's argument brings us one step closer to ending this contract," said Rachel Meeropol, lead CCR attorney on the case. "No Court in the State has ever considered the legality of DOCS' unauthorized tax. It is time for that evaluation."
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 (CCR) is a nonprofit legal and educational organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.