New York's highest court ruled Monday that families forced to pay high phone rates to talk to relatives in state prison won't receive refunds for the cost.
The lawsuit was first brought by the inmates' families in 2004.
In a 5-1 decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's ruling that the families failed to assert legitimate claims under the state constitution.
The court found that the fee was bad public policy, but didn't qualify as being unconstitutional.
Defense organizations and relatives of inmates argued that the state had illegally collected millions of dollars through a prison telephone service contract. They said the state's contract with MCI Worldcom Communication violated the state constitution. The contract has since been taken over by Verizon.
"We're very disappointed," said Rachel Meeropol, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. The center has represented families in the case.