Two small articles in the local section of the Miami Herald show the seamy side of the money-grubbing culture in Florida. In one case the state is trying to squeeze prisoners' families for every dollar it can get by requiring them to use overpriced telephone services to speak to prisoners—and just banned a magazine that carries ads explaining how to route around the overcharges. In another case, local lawyers claim that court reporters have been massaging the margins to inflate the length and cost of transcripts.
Corrections Dept. sued over phone flap describes a transparent violation of the First Amendment by Florida Department of Corrections (prisons) officials who have banned Prison Legal News on the dubious grounds that it threatens prison security. The “threat” consists of printing ads from local telephone services which allow inmates to make collect calls to their families more cheaply than the $4/five minutes charged by the prisons.
Yes, you read that right. Inmates are only allowed to make collect calls, and if they want to speak to their families then the families must pay $4 for every five minutes for that privilege. Why is this cost so high? Because the prisons let the telephone contract to the bidder who promised the highest cost, not the lowest — thus maximizing revenue to the prisons.
So we're not only locking up offenders, we're trying to ensure they have minimum contact with their families. Or, if you prefer, we're trying to milk the families — primarily poor people — for all we can. I can call the UK for six or seven cents a minute, but inmates pay about $1.33 per minute to call a nearby town.
But the public sector is no better than the private sector. In Lawyer claims court reporting agency fudging margins and bottom line we learn that Florida court reporters, who are paid by the page, have (allegedly) been manipulating the margins — left, right and bottom — of court transcripts in order to increase the page count.
State law specifies the width of the margins, the number of lines per page, letters per line and the size of the font. Lawyers, governments and individuals pay court reporters by the page. Rates vary depending on individual contracts and the type of proceeding transcribed.
County governments are some of the biggest customers because they pay expenses for many poor criminal defendants. Nan Markowitz, spokeswoman for Miami-Dade courts, said her office audits more than 2,000 transcripts a month and finds problems with about one in 10.
Court reporters give refunds when the counties ask for them, but the private lawyers have less luck , and — no surprise — one of them is bringing a class action claim for redress.