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Articles about Phone Justice

Families Accuse Arkansas Prison of Poor Communication on COVID-19 Prisoners

As of June 14, Cummins had 963 positive cases of coronavirus out of the 1,900 prisoners housed there, with 65 positive staff cases. Prisoners Derick Coley, Morris Davis and Jim Wilson all contracted the virus and died suddenly and with little contact from the prison.

For-profit provider Wellpath is in charge of health care at the prison. According to NPR affiliate KUAR, at the time of Coley’s death “it appears that the most trained medical staff in the building that night were licensed practical nurses.”

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Coley was serving a 20-year sentence for a “terroristic act in relation to a shooting.” His girlfriend, Cece Tate, stated that Coley, 29, had stayed in contact with her and their daughter using a contraband cell phone.

Tate tested positive in April and all calls ceased. Tate and Coley’s sister, Tytiuna Harris, made several calls ...

Quarantine Fatigue vs. Escalating Prison Lockdowns (During COVID-19 & Black Lives Matter Protests)

KidsMates, Inc. Blog Post

By Ava Martoma, Age 13

Like much of America, I’m feeling quarantine fatigue. On the upside, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on … well, everything. Lately, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, and the Black Lives Matter protests have occupied my thoughts. Truth is, I’ll never really know George Floyd, but I do know how he suffered in the last minutes of his life because there’s video proof.

Watching the George Floyd footage makes me think about lockdowns at my dad’s prison. There aren’t any cameras to capture what happens behind prison walls, but my dad’s stories give me a glimpse of what it feels like to be a prisoner during a lockdown.

Prison Lockdown

My dad’s prison camp started a lockdown last fall, long before coronavirus changed our world. Guards discovered contraband in a common area and punished all the prisoners at the facility, even those who weren’t involved. Everyone lost access to exercise equipment, outdoor recreation, microwaves, classes, visits, and many other “privileges.”

When authorities found that a corrections officer was responsible for smuggling in the contraband, prisoners hoped that the lockdown would end. Instead, sanctions got tougher, family ...

COVID-19 Pandemic Leads to Unrest in Prisons Around the Globe

by Matt Clarke

The COVID-19 pandemic, or rather government officials’ inept reaction to the pandemic, has led to unrest in prisons around the world—especially in South America and the Middle East. This has resulted in the escape of hundreds and the death of dozens of prisoners.

The typical initial response to the pandemic was for prisons to suspend visitation. Americans might see this as a minor inconvenience in an era of social isolation outside of prisons, but, in many poorer countries, visitors are a literal lifeline—bringing their loved ones food, clothing, and medicine. For those prisoners, suspension of visitation is life-threatening. It also causes the prisoners high levels of anxiety about the welfare of their families while simultaneously making the families worry about their incarcerated loved ones.

Often accompanying the suspension of visitation is a ban on phone calls (if they were available to begin with) and a slow down or stoppage of mail as guard shortages cause the prison administrations to shift staff away from the mail room and to higher priority areas or limit the personnel entering the prison to essential positions. This lack of communication, along with a frequent failure of prison administrations to inform prisoners about ...

California Court of Appeal Upholds Dismissal of Challenge to Excessive Jail Phone Rates as Unconstitutional Tax

by Matt Clarke

On April 28, 2020, a California court of appeal affirmed the judgment of a lower court sustaining the demurrer of nine counties that were sued by jail prisoners and their families as a challenge to excessive jail phone rates as an unconstitutional tax under Proposition 26.

The counties contracted with telecommunications providers that are not parties to the lawsuit to have an exclusive right to provide prisoner telecommunications services in exchange for a percentage — generally over half — of what the companies charge for the calls. Los Angeles County is typical in that it receives the greater of 67.5% of the charges, or $15 million annually. The rates are exorbitant but, under Penal Code § 4025, the counties are required to deposit their commissions in an inmate welfare fund.

Plaintiffs alleged the commissions were an unlawful tax that violated the California Constitution because none of the commissions had been approved by voters. Proposition 26 (Art. XIII C, § 2, Cal. Const.) makes all taxes imposed by local entities subject to voter approval with seven exceptions.

The defendants filed a challenge to the legal sufficiency of the complaint called a demurrer. The basic premise was that the ...

Company Hawking Prison Phone Monitoring Technology as Way to Discover Coronavirus Infections

A Los Angeles-based company has been selling to jails and prison systems phone-monitoring technology that searches for keywords, touting it as a way to discover COVID-19 infections early.

LEO Technologies developed the Verus system, which has already been deployed in at least 26 facilities in 11 states, including the Georgia prison system, at least seven Alabama county jails, and at least one facility in California. Some use LEO for non-COVID-19-related purposes.

The prisons implement Verus by asking their prison phone service provider to share call data with LEO, which routes the data though Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud-computing division of Amazon. AWS sends LEO transcripts and the transcripts are read for keywords such as “coughing,” “sick,” “sneezing” or “COVID-19” by LEO staff. Could anything go wrong?

“Obviously, people talking about COVID-19 on the phone does not necessarily mean they are infected with COVID-19. The whole world is talking about the virus right now,” said Shilpi Agarwal, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “It’s not at all clear that any of the monitoring and analysis would be accurate; we know that voice recognition technology is deeply biased. Moreover, we also know ...

Prison Officials Limit Prisoner Communications During COVID-19 Crisis

Prisoners struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic — often without masks, sufficient cleaning supplies or the ability to social distance — are crying for help to the outside world by any means possible. Some prison authorities have responded by cutting off their access to phones and email.

At the San Diego County Jail, prisoners held up a homemade sign that said, “We Don’t Deserve 2 Die,” during a prisoner’s video chat. Three of those prisoners were sent to solitary confinement shortly thereafter.

In the Pine Prairie, Louisiana ICE detention center, contact between prisoners and members of the media via video chat included inmate complaints about the lack of protective equipment and the possibility of conflict between prisoners and staff. The result? Future video contacts were canceled by the institution.

On the federal level, those suspected of being infected with COVID-19 are often quarantined in special housing or solitary, during which time they are often without access to anything but irregularly delivered mail from the U.S. Post Office.

At the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), California facilities at Terminal Island and Lompoc, where over half of the prisoners tested positive when the Los Angeles County Board of Health ...

The Ongoing Push to End Outrageous Prison Phone Charges

Groups in several states are drawing increased attention to the high cost of jail and prison phone rates, and pushing to reduce or eliminate such charges. HRDC, the publisher of PLN, has been a leader in this movement since 1992 and founded the Prison Phone Justice Campaign in 2012 to end the financial exploitation of prisoners and their families.  It has achieved significant reductions in the cost of prison and jail phone calls. But much more is still needed. PLN has reported extensively on this issue over the past 28 years.

Unless someone has been through the criminal justice system themselves, or tried to stay in contact with a family member or friend in jail or prison, they are unlikely to be aware of the $1.75 billion industry that gouges consumers by providing phone services to prisoners.

There are few providers for inmate calling systems, though the two largest providers, Securus and Global Tel*Link, form a virtual duopoly in the market. Securus has contracts with about 3,400 prisons and jails in the United States, and Global Tel Link has over 2,400, according to a December 31, 2019 story from NBC News.

These companies “negotiate” ...

Long-running Maricopa County, Arizona Jail Lawsuit Ends

by Ed Lyon

With all of the negative publicity concerning the Maricopa County, Arizona, jails associated with former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the unconstitutional conditions there began under Sheriff-elect Jerry Hill. It was during Hill’s tenure in 1977 that the lawsuit Graves v. Hill -- now Graves v. Penzone, the name of the county’s current sheriff -- began.

Initially the case involved access to attorneys through telephone availability and overcrowded conditions with three pre-trial detainees as plaintiffs. The suit expanded to include and eventually revolve around the jail’s detainees not receiving medical and mental health care that meets constitutionally required minimum standards.

A local legal aid organization, Community Legal Services, filed the original lawsuit, maintaining it until 2005. At that point, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took the helm, presumably in response to a 2001 judgment termination attempt initiated under the Arpaio administration.

In 1981, a multilateral consent decree was agreed to by the parties. In 1995, an amended judgment replaced the consent decree as jail administrators and staff continued to work at alleviating unconstitutional conditions. Therefore, the stipulated amended judgment did not include any determinations by the judge on the actual “constitutionally ...

Oregon Lawmakers Prohibit Prison and Jail Telephone Kickbacks

by Mark Wilson

This isn’t just an issue of economics,” said Oregon Senator Sara Gelser, the chief sponsor of a bill prohibiting jail and prison telephone contract kickbacks that passed nearly unanimously. “This is really about the humanity of the people that are in our prisons and the ability of people to remain connected to the people that they love, the people that they need to be successful in their programs in prison.”

A February 2019 study by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) found that prisoners as well as pre-trial detainees in the U.S. are charged up to $22 for a 15-minute phone call, though that rate has been declining over time. As previously reported in PLN, some companies which offer video-visitation – now available at over 500 prisons and jails in at least 43 states - require prisons to restrict in-person visitation, as well.

“The jail phone industry is broken largely because jail phone companies compete for monopolies,” said PPI’s Wanda Bertram. “They do this by sharing revenue with the facilities themselves…That means part of the contracting process is distorted by collusion between jail phone companies and facilities.”

During a February 2019 public hearing on Senate Bill 498, ...

Securus Technologies Rebrands as Aventiv

by Kevin Bliss

On October 8, 2019, a corporate reorganization listed Aventiv Technologies as the parent company of Securus Technologies, Inc., JPay and AllPaid (formerly known as GovPayNet). Securus has a long history of providing prison and jail phone services, and price gouging prisoners and their families with high rates. JPay has the same history with respect to money transfer services and electronic tablets provided to prisoners.

A spokesperson for Aventiv said the businesses will work together to provide innovative technologies and expand their products and services to a broader customer base.

On October 10, Aventiv issued a statement that described its new corporate structure as head of a conglomeration of companies offering a variety of services, mainly to corrections agencies.

“We are transforming the company at every level,” said CEO Robert Pickens. “Mindful of both our customers and our critics, we are working to ensure that our core communication services are more affordable, responsive and attuned to the needs of our customers, including corrections agencies, incarcerated individuals, and their families and friends. At the same time, we are developing innovative technology products and services that will better serve customers and consumers, and have broader application beyond the corrections marketplace.” ...