Naked City

"Clean, Wholesome' Prison Labor

The Texas Civil Rights Project last Tuesday filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court against SandStar Family Entertainment stemming from the company's use of prison inmates to make telemarketing calls. According to TCRP Executive Director Jim Harrington, SandStar -- which markets itself as a purveyor of "clean, wholesome entertainment that reflects your values," and the premiere retailer of films re-edited for content -- paid the inmates 80 cents per hour and earned at least $700,000 from inmate work. TCRP's lawsuit seeks judgement against SandStar for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress and privacy violations.

In February 2000, Mesquite resident April Jordan received two sales calls from SandStar. Answering the second call was her 15-year-old daughter, and what followed was an eight-minute conversation during which the male telemarketer ferreted out personal information about the teenager -- including her age, address, and physical description. Just a week later, Jordan's daughter received a suggestive letter from an inmate at a Utah prison, and the perturbed parent began to unravel what had happened.

As it turned out, SandStar had contracted with the Utah Dept. of Corrections to hire inmates for their telemarketing needs. A SandStar-employed inmate had sold the information about Jordan's daughter to another inmate, who then wrote to the girl. "It was horrible," Jordan said. "In their initial call, they reached me with a survey and put the information into the database. So they knew I had daughters and when they called back, they reached [one of them]." Jordan said the telemarketer never identified himself as a prison inmate during either sales call.

In addition to Jordan, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that at least two other people -- one a minor -- also received suggestive letters after inmate telemarketers had obtained their addresses and personal information. While no one at SandStar could be reached for comment, transcripts of a 1998 installment of ABC's network magazine Primetime Live quote SandStar employee Michael Clapier as saying he found no problems with hiring inmates to gather personal information and didn't think they needed to identify themselves as inmates. "I don't believe that it's unfair to the customer," Clapier told the Primetime reporter. "We're finding that [the inmates are] very courteous."

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