Telephone Use

Reference Number: 

Pursuant to state regulations the jail must have a policy and procedure providing reasonable private access to a telephone for the prisoners. The policy and procedure must be in writing and posted so as to be conspicuous to the prisoners and must set forth any limitations. At a minimum, the procedure must include (1) the hours during which telephone access will generally be provided, (2) a statement regarding the privacy of telephone communications, and (3) inmates with hearing and/or speech disabilities shall be afforded access to a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD), or comparable equipment.  Public telephones with volume control shall be made available to inmates with a hearing impairment.  Information regarding the availability of TDD communication devices shall be posted.  Inmates with hearing and/or speck impairments shall be afforded access similar to those inmates without impairments.  Rules of the Tennessee Corrections Institute, Rule 1400-1-.12(5).

An inmate has no constitutional right to telephone use, Griffin v. Cleaver, 2005 WL 1200532, *6 (D. Conn. 2005), nor does he have a constitutional right to make private telephone calls. Cook v. Hills, 3 Fed.Appx. 393, *1 (6th Cir. 2001). See also Washington v. Reno, 35 F.3d 1093, 1100 (6th Cir. 1994) (concluding that prisoners have no entitlement to unlimited use of a telephone); Benzel v. Grammer, 869 F.2d 1105 (8th Cir. 1989) (same); Lopez v. Reyes, 692 F.2d 15, 17 (5th Cir. 1982) (A jail inmate in maximum security has no right to unlimited telephone use.); Frazier v. Coughlin, 81 F.3d 313, 317-318 (2d Cir. 1996) (holding that 30-day loss of recreation, commissary privileges, packages and telephone use did not state a cognizable claim for denial of due process).

Jail officials have the right to limit an inmate's access to phone calls “to the extent that such limitations are designed to achieve legitimate penological interests.”  Leslie v. Sullivan, 2000 WL 34227530, *7 (W.D. Wis. 2000). “Prisoners are not entitled to unlimited visits or inexpensive phone calls to their family members under the Constitution.”  Id. See also Martin v. Tyson, 845 F.2d 1451, 1458 (7th Cir. 1988) (per curiam) (upholding policy limiting pretrial detainee's telephone access to every other day); Pope v. Hightower, 101 F.3d 1382, 1385 (11th Cir. 1996) (upholding policy limiting use to preapproved calling list of at most 10 people); Washington v. Reno, 35 F.3d 1093, 1100 (6th Cir. 1994) (upholding policy limiting use to preapproved list of at most 30 people); Benzel v. Grammer, 869 F.2d 1105, 1108-09 (8th Cir. 1989) (upholding policy limiting use by inmates in disciplinary segregation to preapproved list of at most three people).

An inmate’s “right to telephone access, if any, is subject to rational limitations based upon legitimate security and administrative interests of the penal institution. ‘The exact nature of telephone service to be provided to inmates is generally to be determined by prison administrators, subject to court scrutiny for unreasonable restrictions.’” Arney v. Simmons, 26 F.Supp.2d 1288, 1293 (D. Kan. 1998) (upholding restrictions placed on inmates' telephone access, including 10-person telephone call lists modified at 120-day intervals, monitoring of telephone calls, prohibition on international calls from inmate telephones, and prohibition on inclusion of public officials on call lists) (citations omitted).

In Spurlock v. Simmons, 88 F.Supp.2d 1189 (D. Kan. 2000), the court held that limiting a hearing-impaired inmate to two 30-minute telephone calls per week on a special facility TDD telephone, while permitting other inmates unlimited access to the inmate telephone system, did not violate the due process clause, id. at 1193, and did not violate the deaf inmate's equal protection rights. Id. at 1194. Further, the court found that prison officials did not discriminate against the deaf inmate in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Rehabilitation Act. The court found that, as a matter of law, the plaintiff had meaningful access to a telephone. Id. at 1195-1196. See also Hansen v. Rimel, 104 F.3d 189 (8th Cir.1997) (finding no equal protection violation for failure to provide special telephone to disabled inmate).

In Boriboune v. Litscher, 91 Fed.Appx. 498, 499-500 (7th Cir. 2003), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a prison policy prohibiting inmates from communicating on the telephone in a language other than English without first receiving approval.  The court found that the prisons’ policy was reasonably related to its interest in maintaining security, which is a legitimate penological concern. See also Sisneros v. Nix, 884 F.Supp. 1313 (S.D. Iowa 1995) (finding regulation requiring mail to and from prisoners be in English language did not violate prisoner's First Amendment rights or his 14th Amendment Equal Protection rights).