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PLN sues FL DOC over phone ad censorship

St. Petersburg Times, Jan. 1, 2004.
PLN sues FL DOC over phone ad censorship - St. Petersburg Times 2004

St Petersburg Times

Wed, 14 Jan 2004 20:49:43 EST

Taboo prison reading: cheap-deal phone ads

Now a lawsuit is challenging the denial of inmates' access to a magazine offering a legal way around paying $4 for a five-minute collect call.

By Associated Press Published January 14, 2004


MIAMI - A magazine that deals with prison issues is suing the Florida Department of Corrections, seeking to overturn a decision banning it from state penitentiaries because the magazine advertises discount telephone services inmates can use.

The DOC is banning the Prison Legal News to protect the profits it makes from calls inmates make through MCI, the system's contracted phone carrier. A DOC memo supporting the ban says that the Seattle-based magazine has "advertisements that encourage phone companies other than those assigned to the institution."

"Banning Prison Legal News from Florida correctional institutions is the kind of censorship you'd expect in Cuba or Iraq, but not in America," said Randall Berg, an attorney for the Florida Justice Institute, which is helping represent the magazine.

MCI charges inmates' families long-distance collect call rate of about $4 for a five-minute call. It gives the state a cut, which amounted to $16.64-million for fiscal year 2002-03. DOC spokesman Sterling Ivey had not seen the lawsuit, but he defended the arrangement with MCI.

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

If the families used a company that advertises in the magazine, Outside Connections, they would lower their costs.

Outside Connections gives families a local number for their inmate relatives to call. The company then forwards the inmates' collect calls to their families at a rate lower than MCI's. To do this according to DOC rules, inmates put the local number of Outside Connections as well as the number of the relativethey 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.