CCR Announcement: Five Key Amicus Briefs Filed in Prison Telephone Appeal

[An announcement from the Center for Constitutional Rights] Dear friends, We are happy to report that the Court of Appeals has accepted all the “friend of the court” briefs filed last week in support of our case. Thanks so much to all of you who signed on in support of this important fight. The briefs are all available at out website, at . We encourage you to read them and share them with others, as they present compelling evidence and argument against the State’s discriminatory and un-just actions. Peace in and out, Marion… The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is excited to report that 38 organizations, over 50 individuals, and 15 elected officials have moved for permission to file "friend of the court" briefs with the highest court of the State of New York in support of the pending appeal by the friends, family members, and attorneys of New York State Prisoners. CCR also filed the reply brief in the case, Walton v. New York State Department of Correctional Services, on Friday December 1st, completing the parties' briefing schedule before the high court. CCR attorney Rachel Meeropol said, "This brings us one step closer to ending the unlawful kickback contract between MCI/Verizon and the Department of Correctional Services. The amicus briefs filed show that support for ending the contract and creating just rates for prison families is broad and deep: we hope that the court will take notice, but also that the new Governor will do the right thing and put a stop to this unlegislated, backdoor tax as one of his first priorities." The lawsuit seeks an order prohibiting the State and MCI/Verizon from charging exorbitant rates to the family members of prisoners to finance a 57.5% kick back to the State. MCI is currently charging these family members a 630 percent markup over regular long distance consumer rates to receive a collect call from their loved ones, the only method of calling from a DOCS institution. Judge George Ceresia of the Supreme Court of New York, Albany County, dismissed the suit last fall, citing issues of timeliness, and the Appellate Division affirmed the decision. In July 2006, the Court of Appeals agreed to hear the case. Oral argument is scheduled for January 9, 2007. The friend of the court briefs address the impact of the DOCS kickback on diverse segments of New York, and highlight the constitutional violations detailed in the complaint. Betsy Gotbaum, Public Advocate for the City of New York has filed a proposed brief on behalf of herself and 14 members of the New York City Council, including Gale Brewer, Yvette D. Clarke, Bill De Blasio, James Gennaro, Robert Jackson, Letitia James, G. Oliver Koppell, Miguel Martinez, Hiram Monserrate, Annabel Palma, Diana Reyna, Larry B. Seabrook, Helen Sears and Kendall Stewart supporting the appeal in light of the disproportionate impact the State's policy has on New York City residents. The brief focuses on the importance of prisoners maintaining contact with their loved ones to advance the rights of children growing up in New York with an incarcerated parent and to increase safety and decrease crime in New York City neighborhoods. The Innocence Project has moved to file a friend of the court brief on behalf of itself and the Incarcerated Mothers Program documenting the compelling situation of individuals falsely convicted of crimes, and the importance that phone calls to their loved ones played, and continues to play, in their ability to reconnect to their community upon their exoneration. The brief also analyzes the myriad constitutional deficiencies of the current system. The Law firm of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel has written a proposed brief on behalf of The Sentencing Project, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Women's Prison Project, the Vera Institute of Justice, the Fortune Society, the Center for Community Alternatives, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, the Justice Policy Institute, the Southern Tier Advocacy & Mitigation Project, Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, the Parolee Human Rights Project of the New York City AIDS Housing Network, AdvoCare, Inc., Voice of the Ex-Offender, the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, and the Real Cost of Prisons Project. The brief traces established social science research completed in the last century unequivocally establishing the critical role family and community ties plays in the rehabilitation and re-entry of former prisoners. Legal Aid Society has requested leave to submit a brief on behalf of itself, The Center for Law and Social Justice and the Bronx Defenders, all organizations that are forced to pay the high rates of calls from New York State Prisoners in the course of their representation of advocacy efforts. Legal Aid's brief discusses the adverse impact the high rates has on provision of legal services and urges the Court to correct this continuing injustice. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, has requested leave to submit a brief on behalf of 16 organizations devoted to providing services and support for the family members of prisoners and prisoners themselves, including Bridge Street Prison Ministry Outreach, Bronx HIV Care Network, Citizens for Restorative Justice, Coalition of Families of New York State Lifers, Coalition for Parole Restoration, Ebenezer House of Deliverance Prison Ministry Outreach, Justice Now, Hour Children, New York Inmate Families,, Parents in Action, Prison Action Network, Prison Families Community Forum, Prison Families of New York, Inc., and Take Higher Ground, Inc. Over 50 family members, friends, and ministers of prisoners have also signed on. The brief includes accounts of the impact of the high cost of telephone rates on the loved ones of prisoners. The full text of each brief is available on CCR's website at
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