Securus Phone Rates Spark Uprising at Alaska Prison
A riot at an Alaska prison “kind of blew up” because, according to prisoners, the phone service provided by Securus was shoddy and the company charged unreasonable rates.
Sparked by a widespread disconnection of phone calls one Monday night in October 2015, prisoners housed in E Dorm at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center (LCCC) disabled surveillance cameras, broke a window, ripped a table out of the concrete floor and then stacked the table and mattresses against a door into the dorm, preventing guards from entering.
Shortly after midnight, however, guards were able to break through the barricade and round up an undisclosed number of prisoners, placing them all in segregation. No one was injured according to Alaska DOC officials.
“For weeks, everybody’s been on edge about [the phone rates],” an LCCC prisoner identified only as Alec told the Juneau Empire in a phone interview from the facility. “The most important things we have in here are connections with our family.”
Texas-based Securus entered into a new contract with the Alaska DOC in September 2015. Per the terms of that contract, prisoners would be able to call cell phones (which they had been unable to do previously), but Securus would also start charging new fees. For example, prisoners would have to pay $1 plus tax for a 15-minute local call (which had been free under the prior contract), and long-distance calls would cost up to $3.75 each plus tax.
The Alaska chapter of the ACLU had appealed to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska in December 2014, asking that agency to halt the rate increases. The ACLU argued the higher phone costs would pose a hardship on both prisoners’ families and attorneys who need to speak with their incarcerated clients. The appeal fell on deaf ears.
The ability to call cell phones aside, the phone service under Securus’ new contract hardly seemed worth the higher fees. Prisoners were unable to leave voice messages or call toll-free numbers. And Securus had made sure it had cornered the prison phone market, blocking prisoners’ ability to use alternate calling services, such as Google Phone, to avoid hefty long-distance costs.
For three local phone calls totaling 28 minutes between Alec and staff at the Juneau Empire, the newspaper was charged $3.51. And had the Empire paid by credit card, the charges would have increased to $10.46 – equivalent to $.37 per minute. As the newspaper reported, the three local calls from Alec were potentially more expensive than if he had called a landline phone in South Africa using AT&T.
Securus also requires family members and friends to register their personal information in a company database before they can accept calls from prisoners. The Alaska DOC, meanwhile, receives “commission” kickbacks from the Securus phone contract – as do 39 other state prison systems.
“This is clearly so somebody just can get rich,” Alec remarked.
The October 5, 2015 riot at LCCC began between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., after phone calls were inexplicably disconnected and prisoners realized that their loved ones would still have to pay for the calls despite the interruption. At that point, as LCCC prisoner Chris Davison told the Empire, “the whole place kind of blew up, you know what I mean?”
Alaska DOC spokeswoman Sherrie Daigle said visitation at the facility was shut down for several days following the riot, and damage to E Dorm was estimated to be in the thousands of dollars. Securus continues to provide phone services in Alaska prisons.