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Sarah Solon

Spitzer Overturns controversial Pataki-era policy: no more excessive phone charges for families calling their incarcerated loved ones

Yesterday Governor Spitzer announced a plan to dramatically reduce excessive telephone charges paid by the families of prisoners in New York State. The controversial Pataki-era policy of charging families of prisoners up to 600% more than regular customers to speak to inmates on the phone made it difficult and unaffordable for families to keep in touch with prison inmates. Studies suggest that regular contact between prisoners and their families can reduce rates of criminal recidivism upon release. A case relating to the excessive phone charges is being heard in the State Court of Appeals today.

This is an important policy change impacting the human cost for families struggling to maintain contact with their loved ones in upstate prisons, as well as how society as a whole benefits from lower criminal recidivism rates when contact between prisoners and their families is facilitated.

Take it from Ezekiel Edwards:

"As a public defender in the Bronx, I have seen time and time again the role that maintaining contact with a loved one while he or she is in prison plays in reducing recidivism rates and in the general health of families and communities. Governor Spitzer's directive that the New York State Department of Correctional Services not renew its unconscionable contract with MCI that has punished inmates and their families trying to stay in touch is a welcome (and long overdue) step forward.

Since 1996, the state has made over $200 million off of the families of inmates by charging a predatory 600% more to them than to everyone else, resulting in financial hardship to families with loved ones in prison or preventing inmates from maintaining contact with their parents, spouses, and children.

The Court of Appeals is hearing arguments today on the issue, the outcome of which is still important, since the situation hasn't changed yet (and won't change until April), since the plaintiffs are entitled to a declaration of whether their rights are currently being violated, since the plaintiffs are still entitled to damages, and since a declaration is necessary to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

It is important to recognize that similar burdensome contracts exist in many other states, creating the same financial and emotional strain for inmates and their families as have existed in New York for a decade. Hopefully Governor Spitzer's important decision recognizing the contract's unfairness will cause other states to take similar action."

Stay tuned for updates on the Court of Appeals hearing...

Sarah Solon: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 4:39 PM, Jan 09, 2007 in Criminal Justice
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