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New Mexico Private and State Prison Phone Rates Challenged

Two separate state court class action lawsuits have challenged the excessive phone rates charged to people who accept collect calls from New Mexico state prisoners. The first lawsuit, Valdez v. Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, was filed on December 30, 1999, in Rio Arriba district court. The plaintiffs have family members imprisoned in private prisons or jails run by Wackenhut, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Cornell Corrections and Correctional Services Corporation (CSC). Private prisons hold about 30% of all state prisoners in New Mexico and numerous jail detainees. The defendants in the suit include the private prison companies and their employees. The phone service provider defendants are Evercom Systems, Inc. and PCS America, Inc.

The plaintiffs claim that the private prison companies have exclusive contracts whereby prisoners can only place collect calls using the services of the phone service provider defendants, who in turn pay hefty kickbacks to the prison companies in exchange for the contracts. This arrangement prevents the use of competitive services or lower rates by either the prisoner or the people who accept collect calls from them.

The plaintiffs claim that these exclusive contracts and the resulting kickbacks violate the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act, NMSA 1978, § 57-12-1, et seq., as they constitute unfair, deceptive and unconscionable trade practices. Plaintiffs also claim violation of the New Mexico anti trust act, unjust enrichment, constructive fraud, economic compulsion and racketeering. As relief the plaintiffs seek compensatory, punitive and treble damages to the plaintiff class, injunctive relief and attorney fees and costs.

The second class action lawsuit, Valdez v. State of New Mexico, was filed in Rio Arriba district on January 14, 2000, on behalf of people who accept collect calls from prisoners incarcerated in prisons operated by the state of New Mexico and various county jails in that state. The plaintiffs all have family members in New Mexico state operated prisons. The defendants are: the state of New Mexico, its Department of Corrections, DOC secretary Robert Perry, and the counties of: Bernalillo, Chaves, Colfax, Curry, Grant, Guadalupe, Lea, Luna, Los Alamos, Otero, Quay, Rio Arriba, Roosevelt, San Juan, San Miguel, Sandoval, Taos and City of Espanola. The phone service provider defendants are: US West Inc., AT&T Communications, PCS America Inc., Evercom Systems Inc., Gateway Technologies Inc., Public Communications Services Inc., Silverado Communications Inc., Security Telecom Corp., T-Netics, RC and A, Ameritel Communications Inc., Invision Telecom Inc., MOG Communications Inc. and Mcleod USA Telecommunications Service Inc.

The plaintiffs claim that New Mexico prisoners are forced to use collect call service providers selected by the state and counties and in turn receive hefty kickbacks from the phone service provider defendants. As a result, the charges imposed on people who accept such calls are much higher than they otherwise would be. The plaintiffs claim this constitutes an unfair and unconscionable trade practice under NMSA 1978 § 57-12-1 et seq., violates the New Mexico Anti Trust Act, NMSA 57-1-1 and constitutes unjust enrichment and constructive trust, economic compulsion, constructive fraud, illegality, violates the separation of powers doctrine and constitutes an unlawful taking in violation of the New Mexico constitution.

As relief, the plaintiffs seek compensatory, punitive and treble damages, class certification, attorney fees and costs and injunctive relief. See: Valdez v. Wackenhut Corrections Corp., Case No. D-0117-CV9903656 and Valdez v. State of New Mexico, Case No. D-0117-CV-200000104, Rio Arriba County, 1st Judicial District Court.

In the August, 1999, issue of PLN we reported the filing of federal anti trust suits challenging excessive prison and jail phone rates in Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri. Since then similar lawsuits have been filed challenging prison phone rates in New York and Ohio, but PLN has not yet obtained copies of the complaints. We will report developments in these cases as they occur.

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Related legal cases

Valdez v.Wackenhut Corrections Corp.

Valdez v. State of New Mexico