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PJC Brief Opposes Overcharging Families of Prisoners for Telephone Calls

The Public Justice filed an amicus brief on June 16, 2005, in the Court of Appeals in Benson et al v. State of Maryland et al.  The case involves a challenge to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services' monopoly telephone system that grossly overcharges inmates and their families and allows the agency to collect millions of dollars for its own coffers from these vulnerable groups.  Plaintiffs in the case argue that the telephone system and rates violate the Maryland constitution and laws in a variety of ways, including under the separation of powers doctrine (contending that only the General Assembly and not an executive agency like DPSCS has the authority to determine the phone charges).  On behalf of itself and 6 other nonprofit organizations (listed below) whose missions include advocating for prisoners and their families in Maryland, the PJC brief addressed two issues.  It provided information about the vital importance of telephone communication between prisoners and their families and other community supports, showing that such communication is critical to maintaining family and community relationships, under difficult circumstances where families are poor and prisoners are isolated in rural prisons, and in turn, that maintaining those relationships is essential to prisoners' prospects for release on parole, successful rehabilitation and reentry, and also to their children's emotional well-being and ability to avoid the criminal justice system later in life themselves.  The brief also argued that plaintiffs were entitled to bring a class action under the Maryland Tort Claims Act.
The brief was written by Debra Gardner, Legal Director, and John Kopolow (Appellate Advocacy Project volunteer), on behalf of Alternative Directions, Inc., Children Having Incarcerated Parents, Inc., Citizens United For The Rehabilitation Of Errants, Family And Corrections Network, Maryland Justice Coalition, and the Maryland Justice Policy Institute, Inc.

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