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LA Prisoners Boycott Phones

By Paul Wright

In June of 1993 Global Tel-Link won a 3 year contract with the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections to install about 875 phones and handle all collect calls placed from the state's 16 adult and juvenile facilities. The company, which mentioned the "profitability of prisons" in its bid document, agreed to pay the state at least $5 million annually in commissions. Global's revenues come from the persons who accept the collect calls placed by the prisoners.

Since taking over the phone services Global has massively increased the rate it charges for the calls. For example, a 15 minute call from the prison at Angola to New Orleans increased from $3.60 to $6.90. This increase led to a mass number of complaints being filed by prisoners, their families, advocates and attorneys with prison officials and the Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC). They also complained that the quality of service has declined with callers unable to hear each other.

Noting that, in violation of it's contract, Global was charging higher rates than other local carriers such as ATT, Corrections Undersecretary James LeBlanc ordered Global to reduce it's rates and reimburse customers who had been overcharged since June 8, 1993. The Louisiana Public Service Commission ordered business' providing prisoner telephone service to provide the same discounts for evening, night, weekend and holiday calls offered by South Central Bell, ATT, MCI and Sprint. That order will lower Global's rates.

To protest the massive rip-off being carried out by Global, prisoners at the state penitentiary in Angola are boycotting the phone. The normal usage rate at Angola is about 2,000 calls per day, that was down to about 600 per day as a result of the boycott which began on October 4, 1993. LeBlanc said prison officials were trying to resolve the matter in the prisoners' favor and said "We're all in this together, including the Governor's office. I'm comfortable with our position, but I don't know where it's headed. If nothing else, the inmates will bring them (Global) to their knees."

The boycott was organized at the main penitentiary in Angola. Its organizers urge prisoners to use the phone if they have an emergency and are not encouraging prisoners in segregation to give up their limited phone privileges. Lifers President Checo Yancy said of Global, "They can't use us as a commodity. These guys are buying stamps 50 and 60 at a time. They're ready to go as long as it takes." Another prisoner said "If they don't want to pay the state its commissions, they can just come and take their phones."

Global's lawyer is Edmund Reggie, a former Louisiana state judge who is himself a convicted felon who pled no contest to misapplying funds from a failed savings and loan where he was board chairman. In defending Global's exorbitant phone rates Reggie said: "And the PSC order is dealing with phone rates of felons whom the state is already spending exorbitant sums per day to house, feed and care for them." Noting the ink was not yet dry on Reggie's own conviction, prisoners Henderson and Yancy point out that the excessive phone charges are victimizing prisoners' families and loved ones, who have not been convicted of anything. The PSC has reaffirmed it's order requiring Global to conform it's rates with those of other local carriers. PSC Commissioner Don Owen noted that the PSC is not in the business of allowing high rates so that state government can make more money.

Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards has stated he would not approve a change in the contract with Global which would permit them to charge more than local carriers. He stated the agreed upon rate was what prisoners' families, friends and relatives were being charged at the time the contract was signed. "Our concern is with the inmates' families who are being asked to pay more. We need to give fair weight to their rights in this matter."

Apparently Global has agreed to reduce its rates and provide refunds for the overcharges to the affected customers. The issue of excessive phone charges is one that affects prisoners across the country and needs to be challenged in each state. PLN will continue to report on this important issue. We urge readers to keep us posted on local developments in this struggle.

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