AT&T Settles Prison-Phone Lawsuit for $45 Million

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After a 12-year-long class action lawsuit involving expensive collect calls, AT&T has agreed to pay $45 million to families of Washington state prisoners.

At least 70,000 families will be eligible for payments stemming from a lawsuit filed in 2000 that accused AT&T and other phone companies of failing to disclose their rates for collect calls, according to the Seattle Times. Those eligible will receive full reimbursement for the call charges in addition to $200.

The lawsuit, filed by family and friends of Paul Wright, the editor of Prison Legal News and a former inmate in Washington state, covers collect calls made between 1996 and 2000. According to Chris Youtz, the attorney that pressed the class action case, charges for the first minute of a call were $3.95 and callers were charged $.90 for each additional minute. The calls ended after 20 minutes, resulting in a new call and a new charge. At least three people accumulated $20,000 in charges and others had $10,000 bills. Newspapers, and a nonprofit that monitors prison conditions, will also most likely receive reimbursement for calls from prisoners.

In the event that any of the $45 million remains after the necessary payouts, some of the remainder will go to the Legal Foundation of Washington – a group that helps low-income people get lawyers – and to groups supporting prisoners' families.

According to the article, the Washington Department of Corrections has reduced its calling charges and legal notices will be filed in order to inform people of the potential refund.

"While AT&T continues to believe that it followed all rules at issue in the lawsuit, we are pleased to see the litigation resolved in a way that, among other things, supports legal assistance for low income residents of Washington state and educational assistance for families of prison inmates in the state," AT&T spokesman Marty Richter told the Times.

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