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Articles about Phone Justice

Alaska Prisoners Riot Over Excessive Phone Rates

by Christopher Zoukis

A disturbance at Alaska's Lemon Creek Correctional Center left a housing unit uninhabitable after prisoners and guards clashed over the prison's excessive telephone rates, a "smartmouth" guard's comments on the subject, and other issues.

According to prisoners formerly housed in the dorm, on October 9, 2015, between 9 and 10 p.m., prisoner telephone calls were abruptly cut off and, fed up with the excessive phone rates, several prisoners became agitated by the fact that they would be charged for the calls anyhow. When a guard commented on the matter in an insulting manner, tensions were escalated. "This was triggered by a smartmouth and these outrageous phone charges, said Chris Davidson, a prisoner now in more secure confinement in an interview with the Juneau Empire newspaper. "That sparked the whole god damned thing."

In September, 2014, the Alaska Department of Corrections instituted a new telephone system operated by a Texas-based provider called Securus. The new system allows prisoners to call cellphone numbers, which were previously blocked, but it is more cumbersome to use and more expensive than the previous system. Alaska now charges prisoners $1.00 for a 15 minute local call, and long-distance ...

Prison Phone Update: Appellate Court Deals Major Blow to Prisoners and Their Families

by Carrie Wilkinson

In a September 2016 article on the fight for comprehensive prison and jail phone reform, PLN reported that while limits on ancillary fees had been implemented by the FCC, intrastate (in-state) rate caps were stayed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals after the FCC’s order was appealed by Global Tel*Link, Securus and other Inmate Calling Service (ICS) providers as well as various corrections officials. [See: PLN, Sept 2016, p.26].

As a result of that appeal the intrastate rate caps never went into effect, though interstate (long distance) rate caps ordered by the FCC in 2013 remained in place, at $.25/min. for collect calls and $.21/min. for debit and prepaid calls. Thus, in some cases – particularly local jails –unregulated in-state phone rates are much higher than long-distance rates. Within state prison systems, intrastate rates range up to $5.70 for a 15-minute call (in Kentucky), though in 22 states they are $.11 per minute or less.

Shortly before oral argument was scheduled in the D.C. Court of Appeals, counsel for the FCC advised the Court that due to a change in the composition of the FCC (resulting from the new ...

New York: Disciplinary Segregation Settlement Finalized; $1.6 Million in Attorney Fees Awarded

by Matt Clarke

On March 31, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin granted final approval to a historic settlement between the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and New York State that will usher in comprehensive reform of disciplinary solitary confinement in the state’s prison system. The reforms will result in the removal of over 1,100 prisoners from solitary.

LeRoy Peoples, DePayne Richardson and Tonja Fenton filed individual federal civil rights lawsuits that were consolidated into a class-action challenging conditions of confinement in disciplinary segregation in New York state prisons. PLN previously reported the settlement when the district court gave it preliminary approval. [See: PLN, Dec. 2014, p.42]. The court has now signed off on the agreement.

Expressing deep gratitude to the attorneys on both sides for working together to craft a settlement that reduces the prevalence of solitary confinement and improves conditions when it is utilized, the court noted that “such confinement causes the deterioration of the mental and physical condition of the inmates.” It also pointed out that, although the settlement involved only disciplinary solitary confinement, prisoners in administrative segregation would also benefit from improved conditions.

The agreement provides for a reduction ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

For the past 30 years, as mass incarceration rates have skyrocketed, so has the number of prisoners infected with hepatitis C (HCV). This is in part because so many prisoners are current or former intravenous drug users, and so much time and energy is spent arresting and imprisoning poor drug users. Illicit drug use behind bars and tattooing with dirty needles also contribute to the spread of HCV among prisoners.

For decades, prison officials have adhered to a policy of refusing to treat prisoners with HCV who were not exhibiting symptoms, claiming they were not yet in need of treatment, then once the prisoners were very ill they would refuse to provide treatment because it was too late or too expensive to do so.

With the recent advent of new drugs that can cure HCV with few debilitating side effects and shorter treatment regimens, the only excuse prison officials have for refusing to provide treatment is the high cost. Yet as repeatedly reported in PLN, when it comes to obtaining drugs to kill prisoners via lethal injections, many states will spare no effort or expense – purchasing execution drugs from compounding pharmacies and far-away countries like India.

Of ...

ICE Settles Suit Filed by Immigration Detainees, Pays $405,000 in Attorney Fees

by Derek Gilna

Immigration and Customs (ICE) officials in northern California agreed to settle a three-year-old federal class-action lawsuit that focused on ICE policies which unnecessarily restricted the ability of immigration detainees to communicate with their counsel and prepare for court hearings. The November 2016 settlement required ICE to pay ...

Global Tel*Link Agrees to Pay $8.8 Million in Class-action Settlement

by Derek Gilna

Global Tel*Link (GTL), the telecom company known for exploiting prisoners with high phone rates to maintain communication with their friends and family members, agreed on March 27, 2017 to pay $8.8 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act ...

Gangs, Privatization Create “Chaotic” Conditions in Mississippi Prisons

By David M. Reutter

Mention prison and most people imagine dark thoughts.  The reasons for those thoughts vary from a fear of losing personal freedom to the images from Hollywood that portray prison as a gladiator school where violence reigns and only the mean or wily survive.

In recent decades, American courts developed a theory of “evolving standards of decency” that demands humane and safe environs prevail in our prisons.  Politicians have touted the need to punish, but of late they have been advocating “smart justice” that once again puts rehabilitation into the mix.

Rhetoric is one thing; reality is another. An expert who recently toured a privatized MDOC prison found “chaotic conditions of confinement” that present an “ongoing risk of serious harm” for prisoners and staff. Prison experts, civil rights advocates, and the media have repeatedly criticized conditions that have resulted in the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) having a higher mortality rate than Detroit.

MDOC Commissioner Christopher B. Epps urged citizens to take a “hard look” into depictions of violence, gang activity, and corruption in the state’s prisons.  He touted MDOC’s positives, which he proclaimed is “a nationally recognized leader in corrections reform.”

Among the positives ...

Ninth Circuit: Warrantless Probationary Cell Phone Search Unconstitutional

The Ninth Circuit Court of Ap­peals has held that a warrantless, suspicionless search of a probationer’s cell phone violated the Fourth Amendment, and that evidence discovered during the search must be suppressed.

Paulo Lara was on probation for a California drug offense. His probation agreement required him to submit to warrantless, suspicionless searches of his person and property; he was also required to initial a “Fourth Amendment waiver.”

On October 2, 2013, probation officers Jennifer Fix and Joseph Ortiz arrived unannounced at Lara’s residence after he failed to appear for a meeting.

Ortiz spotted a cell phone and examined it. He reviewed the most recently sent text messages and discovered a text containing three photos of a semiautomatic handgun on a bed. The picture had been sent to “Al,” who asked if the gun was “clean.” Lara responded “yup” and Al asked “What is the lowest you will take for it?” and “How much?”

Fix and Ortiz did not find a gun in the house. They did find a knife, however, which violated the terms of Lara’s probation, and he was arrested.

Lara’s cell phone was then taken to a forensics lab for analysis. Lab ...

Report Says Private Prison Companies Increase Recidivism

by Derek Gilna

In June 2016, In the Public Interest (ITPI), a non-partisan public policy group, published a report titled “How Private Prison Companies Increase Recidivism,” based upon the fact that for-profit prisons rely upon incarceration to generate revenue – thus they have no incentive to provide rehabilitative programs that reduce recidivism. In a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world, this is a recipe for disaster.

According to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), “50% of incarcerated people return to prison within three years of being released.” The ITPI report noted that “Academic research has found that incarcerating people in prisons operated by private companies, which have business models dependent on incarceration, increases the likelihood of those people recidivating.”

The report further said that while governmental agencies, which do need not to generate profit, typically operate prisons with the goals of rehabilitating prisoners and protecting public safety, private prisons are beholden to stockholders who expect to receive a return on their investment.

“Often,” ITPI wrote, “achieving the profit comes at a cost to prisoners, those who work inside the prisons, and the broader public.”

Private prison companies sell their services to government agencies on ...

California District Court Certifies Immigration Detainee Phone Access Class Action

by Derek Gilna

The United States District Court for the Northern District of California has certified for class action status a lawsuit by various immigration detainees against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The complaint, filed in December of 2013, alleged that DHS and ICE have provided telephone services that are unduly restrictive and expensive, and that the immigrant’s “constitutional and statutory rights are being violated while they are held in government custody pending deportation proceedings.

Prison Legal News has not only reported on exploitative prison phone systems, but has also participated in many lawsuits where prisoner communications with their family, friends, and legal representatives have been restricted.

According to the Court’s opinion, “ICE contracts with Yuba County, Sacramento County, and Contra Costa County to hold immigration detainees in the Yuba, Elk Grove and Richmond Facilities.”  These facilities are “geographically isolated from the San Francisco Immigration Court” as well as from “the immigration attorneys who practice removal defense, most of whom are based in or near San Francisco.”  In addition, the facilities are often geographically isolated from detainees’ family members or friends who might be able to help them in their immigration ...