Wednesday, November 16, The New York Campaign for Telephone Justice will gather with the families and loved ones of New York’s incarcerated population in a first-ever call for reform of the telecommunications laws governing New York State’s penitentiaries. Under current laws, “ “single-carrier collect call systems” are the norm for telephone service in prisons across the United States. Prisoners may only call collect, and loved ones who accept the calls must accept the terms dictated by the chosen phone company.
Currently, under the state’s monopoly contract with MCI, the average prison phone call is billed at 19 minutes, costing just over $6 and adding up to monthly phone bills of up to $400 (630% over the market rate). New York State gets a 57.5 percent kickback on MCI’s profits.
At a time when prisoners are increasingly housed in facilities hundreds of miles away from their home communities, telephones have become for many the only way to stay in touch. Disproportionately, prisoners come from poor communities, so the cost of communicating falls heaviest on those with the least ability to pay.
“We’re not talking about punishment of prisoners, we’re talking about big business alliance and its profiteering at the expense of hundreds of thousands of innocent people already struggling to fight their way out of a cycle of poverty,” says M1 of the group Group Dead Prez. “We have to begin to recognize this as aggression against black and brown people.”
To reform the phone system and establish equitable service, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) launched the New York Campaign for Telephone Justice. Strides have been made with bill passage in the State Assembly (the Family Connections Bill, A.7231-A, on June 23, 2005). But to encourage final bill passage in the State Senate, CCR will hold a boycott in New York City on November 16.
Editor's Note: Read "The Other Side," T. Michael Colbert's contribution to the print issue of POH. Colbert brings the unique perspective of the incarcerated to the pages of POH every quarter.