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PLN sues Florida DOC over censorship due to phone ads

Miami Herald, Jan. 1, 2004.
PLN sues Florida DOC over censorship due to phone ads - Miami Herald 2004

Posted on Tue, Jan. 13, 2004
Miami Herald


Corrections Dept. sued over phone flap


A Seattle-based human rights magazine sued the Florida Department of Corrections in federal court Monday.

The reason: The DOC allegedly banned Prison Legal News from Florida prisons, saying that the magazine threatens prison security because it has ads for discount prison phone services.

A DOC memo says that the magazine has "advertisements that encourage phone companies other than those assigned to the institution."
What this means is that inmates' families can get a break from the comparatively high collect-call fees from Florida prisons, which now run $4 for a five-minute call in the state.

MCI has the DOC contract for long-distance collect calls from prisons. The company charges the families of inmates a high long-distance collect call rate, then gives a percentage of the profit -- over $10 million a year -- to the state of Florida.

"It's a revenue-generating contract," DOC spokesman Sterling Ivey said. "We chose MCI because we got the greatest return."

But the Prison Legal News ad tells prisoners' families how to get around the high rates: The families can call the magazine advertiser, Outside Connections, which gives them a local number for their inmate relatives to call. Outside Connections then forwards the inmate collect calls to their families at a long-distance rate much lower than what MCI charges.

To do this according to DOC rules, inmates put the local number of Outside Connections as well as the number of the relative they are calling on their 10-person call list.

"It's a perfectly legal way to help prisoners' families avoid being gouged with unconscionable long-distance rates," said Mickey Gendler, attorney for Prison Legal News.

The Florida Justice Institute Inc. also represents the magazine in the suit. Randall Berg, an attorney with the institute, said that the magazine was not violating any prison policies or regulations.

"Banning Prison Legal News from Florida correctional institutions is the kind of censorship you'd expect in Cuba or Iraq, but not in America," he said.

Ivey could not comment specifically on the lawsuit because he had not yet seen it. But he did talk about the long-distance charges prisoners' families pay.

"MCI wanted to increase the rate recently, but DOC Secretary [James] Crosby said it was high enough," the spokesman said.