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PLN editor quoted in article re lawsuit over WA prison phone rates

Everett Herald, Jan. 1, 2000.
PLN editor quoted in article re lawsuit over WA prison phone rates - Everett Herald 2000

Published: Friday,

August 11, 2000

Verizon changes prison call policies

By WARREN CORNWALL

Herald Writer

Telecommunications giant Verizon got permission Wednesday to change its handling of phone calls from Washington prisoners, on the heels of a class-action lawsuit claiming a company it owns, and several others, broke state consumer-protection laws.

The state Utilities and Transportation Commission approved a Verizon plan to let people receiving collect calls from prisoners find out how much the call would cost, while barring prisoners from doing the same in most cases.

The change should make it easier for people to find out how big a bill they could face before deciding to accept a call, said Vicki Elliottc, the commission's assistant director for consumer affairs.

She hoped other companies would follow the lead of Verizon, and ensure their phone systems aren't breaking the law.

"I'm hoping that other companies that provide inmate services pick up on it. And if they're not providing quotes like they should or whatever, that they figure out they better do it," she said.

A prison activist involved in the suit said the move added further weight to their claims that companies including GTE, which was acquired by Verizon, had broken the law.

"I think it kind of covers our point that they were violating the law to begin with," said Paul Wright, an inmate at the McNeil Island Corrections Center in south Puget Sound.

The suit, filed by two of Wright's relatives, alleges phone companies broke the law by not giving people a chance to find out the phone rates before they accepted collect calls. It seeks fines and reimbursements that could amount to millions of dollars.

The message preceding a collect call from the Monroe Correctional Complex, which is served by Verizon, had changed Thursday to let a person hear the charge, said Fred Markham, office manager for Prison Legal News, a publication edited by Wright. At his Seattle office, Markham said he receives calls from Monroe daily.

Verizon spokeswoman Melissa Barran declined comment on any changes in the handling of inmate calls, citing the pending legal action.
Other companies named in the suit are AT&ampT, US West, CenturyTel and T-Netix.

US West, now Qwest, is looking at changes similar to Verizon's, said Qwest spokesman Michael Dunne.

Though the lawsuit is designed to attack what some consider exorbitant prison phone rates, the latest change may run counter to that. Verizon's connection fee for a collect call without a live operator is 95 cents, according to the utilities commission. One with a live operator available to explain prices costs $2.30.


 


 

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