After Brian Prins was released from prison in May 2002, he started a business to cut the high phone rates prisoners and their families pay to keep in touch. The Christian Science Monitor reports that after 16 months, his Outside Connection Inc., is almost bankrupt because of a powerful alliance of big business and state government.
Restrictions on prisoner calls meant that Prins’ family phone bills ran as high as $1,000 a month when he was incarcerated for assault and other charges. “Effectively, this is a tax that’s been imposed on inmates’ families without legislation,” says Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights who has filed class- action suits on behalf of families.
Most states require inmates to make collect phone calls. Because these states (with a few exceptions, like Nebraska) have struck lucrative, exclusive deals with major telecom companies, they force inmate families to pay collect rates as much as four times higher than regular customers pay. Prison officials say the higher cost pays for extra security measures that allow them to monitor the calls. Otherwise, inmates could hatch escape plots or dial unapproved numbers.
New York’s corrections department argues that Prins’s company provides an “illegal call-forwarding service.” Prins says his service does not stop prisons from recording phone conversations and that he offered to supply the agency with daily billing information for inmate calls. Prins ovides families with a telephone number near to their relative’s prison. When the inmate dials that number, Outside Connection reroutes the calls to the family’s home number, sparing them high long-distance rates.
Prins has filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission charging that MCI and the New York Corrections Department broke the law by harassing his customers and interfering with his business. The agency has previously called for more competition in the prison telephone industry. “If I don’t get help from the FCC, I’m destroyed,” he says.