AT&T fined more than $300,000 for overcharging on prison calls
January 17, 2008
By RACHEL LA CORTE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
OLYMPIA, Wash.—AT&T has been fined more than $300,000 for overcharging families of prison inmates for collect phone calls from two Eastern Washington state prisons, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission announced Thursday. The phone company will also have to issue $67,295 in refunds to the families of the prisoners at Airway Heights Corrections Center in Spokane and the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
The commission identified 29,971 violations in phone-rate charges during a four-month period in 2005 at the two prisons. One individual had 400 separate collect calls that were overcharged by $2,110, and 22 others were overcharged $500 each, according to commission spokeswoman Marilyn Meehan.
The majority of the overcharged calls ranged from 30 cents to $1, Meehan said. “It was purely a functional error, a billing error,” said AT&T spokesman Ted Wagnon. “As soon as we became aware of it, we corrected it.”
There are approximately 1.6 million collect phone calls made from the state’s prisons each year. Richard Laxton of Seattle filed a complaint with the commission in August 2005, after finding discrepancies in two collect-phone call charges made from Airway Heights.
The commission investigated all calls made from March to June 2005. During that time, AT&T had a contract with the state to provide telephone service from state prisons. The company was required to file a price list with the commission, including charges made for collect calls from pay phones at the two Washington prisons.
AT&T billed Laxton $15.75 for a 20-minute call from the state institution but Zero Plus Dialing, a billing agent for AT&T, charged $22.22 for the same telephone call.
Zero Plus Dialing was charging a $3.95 connection fee plus 89 cents-a.m.inute and a 47-cent prison surcharge for the collect call made from a pay phone at the state prison, when it was in fact only allowed to charge $3.95 for the connection fee and 59 cents a minute for the phone call, according to AT&T’s price list.
AT&T will begin issuing refunds as of Feb. 1. People can contact AT&T at 1-800-826-9923 and ask for a reimbursement form from the company. Customers will have seven months to submit their claim to AT&T, from Feb. 1 to Aug. 31. Wagnon said AT&T would be placing notices in several newspapers around the state and in the two prisons to inform people about the refunds.
This and other outrageous but true news about mass incarceration can be found at Real Cost of Prisons Project