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AT&T Settlement Includes Fines, Reimbursement for Overcharging Recipients of Phone Calls From Washington Prisoners

AT&T Settlement Includes Fines, Reimbursement for Overcharging Recipients of Phone Calls From Washington Prisoners

by Michael Rigby

Telephone service provider AT&T has agreed to reimburse the families and friends of Washington prisoners who were overcharged on collect phone calls made from two state prisons during a four month period in 2005.

Also pursuant to the December 13, 2007 settlement agreement, AT&T will pay $302,705 in fines levied by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) for the unauthorized overages.

In August 2005, Seattle resident Richard Laxton filed a complaint with the UTC noting a discrepancy in the charges applied to two collect phone calls made from the Airway Heights prison. AT&T charged Laxton an already outrageous $15.75 for a 20-minute phone call from the prison. But Zero Plus Dialing, a billing agent for AT&T, charged an even more egregious $22.22 for the same phone call.

According to the UTC investigation, Zero Plus Dialing was charging a connection fee of $3.95, plus 89 cents per minute, plus a 47-cent prison surcharge for calls made from Airway Heights and the Washington State Penitentiary. The UTC found that Zero Plus Dialing's billing scheme exceeded the allowed prices of $3.95 for a connection fee and 59 cents per minute set out in AT&T's price. The overages, according to the UTC, violated RCW 80.36.130.

The UTC investigation ultimately revealed that the families and friends of prisoners had been overcharged $67,295 on 29,971 collect calls made from March to June 2005.

Under the settlement, persons seeking reimbursement can file a claim by contacting AT&T toll free at 1-800-826-9923. They can also check with AT&T to see if their numbers are among those on the overcharged phone call list. The claim period will last seven months, from February 1, 2008 until August 31, 2008.

If AT&T issues less than $67,295 in refunds, the difference will be deposited in the Offender Welfare Betterment Account (a Department of Corrections slush fund), with at least 25% going to the state's Victim Compensation Fund.

Gouging prisoners on telephone calls is big business for many unscrupulous telephone service providers and money hungry state agencies. In Washington alone--a small prison system compared to those in states such as New York, California, and Texas--1.6 million collect calls are made from the states prison's each year. The prison system receives over $10 million a year in kickbacks from the phone companies.

Unfortunately, with such call volume--and regulatory systems that allow prisoners and their families to be pillaged on phone rates--the fines and reimbursement AT&T will pay in the instant case are inconsequential in light of the millions of dollars it rakes in each year on collect prison and jail calls nationwide. Thus, it will likely do little to alter such activity in the future.

See Prison Legal News indexes or visit prisonlegalnews.org for much more on outrageous prison phone rates, overcharges, and settlements. See: Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission v. AT&T Communications of the Pacific Northwest, Inc., Before the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission, Docket No. UT-060962. The settlement and other documents are posted on PLN's website.

Additional Source: www.utc.wa.gov

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Related legal case

Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission v. AT&T Communications of the Pacific Northwest, Inc.


 

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