Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. Speaks Out on Price Gouging in the Prison System
May 10, 2005

Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. was joined by colleagues Assembly corrections committee Chairman Jeff Aubry, Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, Assembly Black and Puerto Rican Caucus Chairman Adriano Espaillat, Assemblyman Jimmy Meng, and Senator Parker in a press conference on Capital Hill to shed light on the "backdoor" tax being burden on the poor and working families of New York State with relatives in correction facilities.

MCI since 1996 has been the exclusive phone service provider for the New York State Department of Correction Services. Currently, they charge inmate families as high as 630 percent above public market rates! Local and long distance phone calls have a $3 hook-up fee, and 16 cents per minute thereafter. It is commonplace for families to being paying phone bills as high as $300-700 per month. Public rates for MCI are as low as $5 monthly hook-up fee (17 cents a day), and 5 cents per minute thereafter.

Studies have shown that inmates that are in contact with family during their incarceration have a lower recidivism upon being reintroduced into society. Even the Department of Correctional Services own study from 1980, "The Family Reunion Program’s Impact on Discipline" by J. Grossman, demonstrates that family has a positive influence on inmate behavior both in prison and upon release. So why is the Department of Corrections limiting the social interaction between inmates and family members after all the evidence suggests doing otherwise?

For $175 million reasons that’s why. This is the amount that the Department of Corrections has amassed since its contract with MCI in 1996. MCI won the contract because they agreed to share 57.5 percent of their revenue with New York State, which was the largest share to the state over other competitors that provided lower rates for users. So what’s being done?

Solution oriented lawmakers such as Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. and Assemblyman Jeff Aubry have introduced legislation that will dramatically change the current policy. They are offering two viable alternatives, federal and debit card, over the current system. The federal prison system uses 800 numbers for both local and long distance calls in all of its facilities. There is no dial up service fee and users only pay 7 cents per minute. The debit card system is becoming extremely popular in state correctional facilities throughout the nation. This system will charge the inmates, rather than the families, for both local and long distance calls. An inmate’s wages are automatically debited to a card and subtracted when used for phone privileges. When the money runs out inmates must wait to accumulate enough money to buy more minutes.

"It is inconceivable that we are penalizing the poor and working families because they have a family member incarcerated. They are already burdened enough. We the Assembly will continue to fight to lower the exorbitant rates and to renegotiate a new state contract," Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. said.

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