Even though New York State's highest court declined to give inmate families refunds for phone calls from prisoners at exorbitant rates, a lawsuit and lobbying effort succeeded in reforming a terribly unfair system, editorializes the New York Times. New York, like many states, used the phones in its prisons as a profit center. MCI, which provided the phone service, charged inmates 16 cents or more a minute plus a $3 surcharge for every call. The Center for Constitutional Rights sued in 2004, charging that the rates were unconstitutional.
The state lowered the rates. The Times notes that plaintiffs had strong arguments that the high rates were bad policy because they made it difficult for inmates to maintain family and community ties, and that released prisoners who lack these ties are more likely to return to a life of crime. That is a message other states should heed: prison systems should not use these calls to balance their budgets.