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PLN sues Mississippi DOC and GlobalTel over access to prison phone contract

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2009.
Press release - PLN sues Mississippi DOC and GlobalTel over access to prison phone contract - 2009

PRESS RELEASE

Prison Legal News – For Immediate Release

March 10, 2009

SUIT FILED AGAINST MISSISSIPPI DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS FOR FAILURE TO PRODUCE PRISON TELEPHONE CONTRACT RECORDS

Jackson, MS – On March 10, Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit monthly publication that reports on corrections and criminal justice-related issues, filed suit in Hinds County Chancery Court against the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) and Global Tel*Link, a private telecommunications company, after the MDOC refused to produce a copy of the state's prison telephone contract with Global Tel.

As part of a nationwide research project in conjunction with University of Michigan professor Steven J. Jackson, PLN has requested copies of contracts between prison systems and companies that provide prison telephone services.

Such contracts include fees and per-minute phone rates that far exceed those charged to members of the general public, averaging up to $1.00 per minute for interstate calls. The contracts also routinely include "commissions" (kickbacks) paid to government agencies of up to 60% of the profits generated from prison phone calls. Those costs are overwhelmingly paid by prisoners' family members, not by prisoners.

Of all the state corrections departments, only the MDOC refused to provide a copy of its prison telephone contract and the amount of prison phone commissions paid to the state, despite a request by PLN made under the Mississippi Public Records Act.

Although the Act specifies that "all public records are ... public property, and any person shall have the right to inspect, copy or obtain a reproduction of any public records of any public body," the MDOC declined to produce the prison phone contract and commission information, citing a protective order entered in an earlier Chancery Court case which prevented their disclosure.

In that earlier case, the company that contracts with the State of Mississippi to provide prison phone services, Global Tel*Link, obtained a court order sealing the documents. The order was entered without an evidentiary hearing and was based on an affidavit provided by a company employee. Global Tel "presented a one-sided and incomplete statement of the relevant facts and the applicable law" when obtaining the protective order, according to PLN's lawsuit.

"Contracts entered into by the state which involve public funds are public documents," stated PLN editor Paul Wright. "As such, the prison phone contract and commission information must be produced pursuant to Mississippi's public records act, and Global Tel*Link, a private for-profit company, cannot hide such documents from members of the public. Such secrecy is unacceptable and contrary to public policy."

"Mississippi citizens who have family members in prison often want to stay in touch by telephone, and they should be charged fair rates. The rates that Global Tel*Link charges, and the amount of money received by the State, is the public's business," added PLN attorney Robert McDuff.

The case is Prison Legal News v. Mississippi Dept. of Corrections, Chancery Court of Hinds County, Mississippi, Case No. G 2009 391 I. PLN is represented by Jackson, Mississippi attorneys Robert B. McDuff and Sibyl C. Byrd.


Prison Legal News (PLN), founded in 1990 and based in Seattle, Washington, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. PLN publishes a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners' rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.

For further information, please contact:

Alex Friedmann
Prison Legal News, Assoc. Editor
5341 Mt. View Rd. #130
Nashville, TN 37013
(615) 495-6568
afriedmann@prisonlegalnews.org

Robert B. McDuff, Attorney
767 North Congress Street
Jackson, MS 39202
(601) 969-0802 phone
(601) 969-0804 fax
rbm@mcdufflaw.com


 


 

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