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PLN sues MS DOC and Global Tel*Link over access to prison phone contract

AP, Jan. 1, 2009.
PLN sues MS DOC and Global Tel*Link over access to prison phone contract - AP 2009

Posted on Wed, Mar. 11, 2009

Publication sues Miss. to get prison phone records

The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. -- A legal magazine dealing with prison issues has sued the Mississippi Department of Corrections for access to records of contracts with a prison telephone service provider.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Hinds County Chancery Court.

Prison Legal News, a nonprofit monthly publication that reports on prison issues nationwide, claimed MDOC refused to provide a copy of its contract with Global Tel-Link as part of a research article on prison telephone services.

The magazine claims MDOC was the only state corrections department to deny access.

"Mississippi citizens who have family members in prison often want to stay in touch by telephone, and they should be charged fair rates. The rates that Global Tel-Link charges, and the amount of money received by the State, is the public's business," the magazine's attorney, Robert McDuff of Jackson, said in a statement.

MDOC spokeswoman Suzanne Singletary on Wednesday referred questions to GTL. An attorney for GTL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Singletary said MDOC had been told by GTL that the telephone service provider had an earlier ruling from a Hinds County judge that it did not have to disclose its records.

The magazine, in its lawsuit, contended the protective order was entered without an evidentiary hearing and was based on an affidavit provided by a company employee.

GTL "presented a one-sided and incomplete statement of the relevant facts and the applicable law" when obtaining the protective order, according to PLN's lawsuit.

"Contracts entered into by the state which involve public funds are public documents," PLN editor Paul Wright said in a statement.

"As such, the prison phone contract and commission information must be produced pursuant to Mississippi's Public Records Act, and Global Tel-Link, a private for-profit company, cannot hide such documents from members of the public. Such secrecy is unacceptable and contrary to public policy," he said.

PLN wants the records as part of a nationwide research project - in conjunction with University of Michigan professor Steven J. Jackson - into contracts between prison systems and companies that provide prison telephone services.

PLN said such contracts include fees and per-minute phone rates that far exceed those charged to members of the general public, averaging up to $1 per minute for interstate calls.

The magazine said it has found that the contracts also routinely include "commissions" - or kickbacks - paid to government agencies of up to 60 percent of the profits generated from prison phone calls. Those costs are paid by prisoners' family members, not by prisoners.