by Ed Lyon
San Francisco, California mayor London N. Breed has unique views regarding people who have become caught up in the criminal justice system. Her views extend to the families of prisoners and pretrial detainees, too.
Breed, unlike many U.S. politicians, grew up in public housing. Further, her knowledge of the criminal justice system and the experiences of prisoners’ families is intensely personal: Her brother is currently serving a 44-year sentence after being convicted of armed robbery and involuntary manslaughter.
“It’s something that has never sat well with me, from personal experience of the collect calls, and the amount of money that my grandma had to spend on our phone bill, and at times our phone getting cut off because we couldn’t pay the bill,” Mayor Breed noted.
She is not alone in her zeal to ease the financial burdens on prisoners’ family members, including the costs of phone calls and the ability of prisoners to purchase hygiene and other items from the jail commissary.
San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, as well as Treasurer José Cisneros and his Financial Justice Project’s director, Anne Stuhl, are also firmly on board with Breed’s vision to ease the financial costs ...
by Brian Dolinar, Truthout
“There were a lot of times my sons tried calling me,” recalled Annette Taylor, who regularly receives calls from her two sons in prison, “but there was no money on the account.” Those were some of the “hardest calls,” she said. “I would worry something was wrong.”
Families of those incarcerated have long complained about the high cost of phone calls from prison. A national campaign pressured the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to intervene in 2015, but the agency’s regulations have since been reversed by the Trump administration.
In Illinois, the price of prison phone calls was just drastically reduced, making it much easier for Taylor and others like her to stay in contact with their loved ones. Just a few years ago, Illinois had the most inflated rates in the country. According to a renegotiated contract, the cost of a call from prison is now just under a penny a minute. Illinois is now the state with the lowest costs in the country.
Taylor’s group, the Ripple Effect (Reaching Into Prisons with Purpose and Love), a prison pen pal project located in Champaign, Illinois, was involved early on in ...
by Victoria Law, Truthout
Imagine paying $20.12 for a 15-minute phone call. That’s how much a call from the Jennings Adult Correctional Facility in Missouri costs.
In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set rate caps on interstate calls from jails, prisons and detention facilities. Now, interstate debit or prepaid calls can cost no more than 21 cents per minute (or $3.15 for a 15-minute phone call). Two years later, in 2015, it did the same for intrastate (or in-state) calls, which make up 92 percent of all calls from incarcerated people. Prison phone providers filed lawsuits challenging these restrictions and, in June 2017, a federal court ruled in the phone companies’ favor. The ruling means that intrastate calls are not subject to FCC regulation and rates fluctuate wildly depending on each facility’s contract with the phone provider.
Jennings isn’t the only local jail with outrageous phone prices. The Arkansas County Jail charges $24.82 for a 15-minute call; in contrast, the same call from the state’s prisons costs $4.80. In Michigan, a call from the Benzie County Sheriff’s jail costs $22.56, but $2.40 from the state prison.
Even when phone costs aren’t as exorbitant ...
The prison phone industry, which provides telecom services for prisons, jails and other detention facilities, has a long and sordid history of exploiting prisoners and their families by charging exorbitant phone rates and fees. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.1; April 2011, p.1]. Over the past decade the industry has steadily consolidated, with two companies supplying the majority of prison phone services: Securus Technologies and Global Tel*Link (GTL).
On April 2, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that a proposed merger between Securus and the nation’s fourth-largest prison telecom, Inmate Calling Solutions, LLC (also known as ICSolutions or ICS), which would have resulted in further consolidation and thus even less competition, had been withdrawn by the firms.
FCC staff had recommended to the agency’s chairman, Ajit Pai, that the merger be denied. Pai wrote in a terse statement that the FCC’s staff “concluded that this deal poses significant competitive concerns and would not be in the public interest.”
The parent organization of Prison Legal News, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which co-founded the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice in 2011 to advocate for reforms in the prison telecom industry – including lower phone ...
by Matt Clarke
On February 11, 2019, the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) issued a report on the “State of Phone Justice,” noting progress on reducing state prison phone rates but fewer reforms in local jails, where high rates and fees persist.
Since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) capped the cost of out-of-state (long distance) phone calls from prisons and jails at $0.21-.25 per minute and limited some of the ancillary fees charged by phone service providers, telecom companies have concentrated their predatory practices at local jails. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.1].
While phone rates in most state prisons have declined in recent years, phone service providers such as Global Tel*Link (GTL) and Securus Technologies have burdened prisoners and their family members with numerous fees. Those fees, including fees to add funds to prepaid phone accounts, are a significant burden for prisoners’ families, many of which have low incomes.
Imagine a family whose breadwinner is in jail and unable to afford bond. In addition to worrying about how to pay for food, rent and utilities, they also must deal with jail phone costs that may run over $20 for a 15-minute call. Making ...
by Scott Grammer
There is a surprising item for sale in the commissary at the Union County Jail in South Carolina: cell phones. The $100 phones can be used to text and make calls between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., but do not have Internet access. All communications are monitored and the phones cannot be used to contact alleged victims. Games, music, reading materials and a GED program can be downloaded from access points within the jail. The phones and associated services are provided by Lattice Incorporated.
The company’s website says their “CellMate” phone “is changing how inmates communicate with family and friends and access educational and entertainment content,” and that a future update will allow access to “rehabilitation videos, online educational courses, religious broadcasts, [and] law library content.” This is similar to content provided by tablets in prisons and jail, which also employ a pay-for-service model. [See: PLN, April 2018, p.44; Nov. 2016, p.52; July 2015, p.42].
According to Union County Sheriff David Taylor, the county makes money from the sale of the phones and additional minutes purchased to use them. Lattice emphasizes to jail officials that its “robust ...
by Mark Wilson
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the termination of a federal prison guard, finding that he waived any claim of prejudice from a 1,265-day delay between commencement of the investigation and termination.
Leonardo Villareal was employed as a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) guard from 2007 until May 23, 2016. He had no disciplinary record and his evaluations were all rated satisfactory or higher.
While employed as a senior guard at BOP’s Federal Detention Center Houston, a prisoner complained to BOP’s internal affairs about Villareal in November 2012. The matter was referred to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which initiated a December 6, 2012, investigation into: Villareal’s relationship with two female prisoners, Claudia Solis and Andee Santana; improper contact with Solis’s family; preferential treatment toward prisoners; breach of computer security; and inattention to duty.
While the OIG investigation was pending, Villareal was reassigned to a phone monitor position outside the facility’s secure perimeter in January 2013. He was not allowed to interact with prisoners or to work overtime.
Following a seven-month investigation, the OIG concluded that Villareal violated several BOP policies. The inspector general found most troubling that Villareal placed ...
In December 2018, a Massachusetts federal district court refused to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the cost of phone calls made by prisoners at the Bristol County House of Correction (BCHC). [See: PLN, Sept. 2018, p.36].
Before the court were motions to dismiss filed by defendants Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson and Securus Technologies, Inc. The lawsuit alleged that Securus was awarded a contract on August 8, 2011 to provide phone services at BCHC. That contract paid the Sheriff’s Office 48 percent of Securus’ gross revenue from phone calls made by prisoners, amounting to $1,172,748.76 in “commission” kickbacks from August 2011 to June 2013.
Rate caps ordered by the Federal Communications Commission in 2013 resulted in an amended contract that gave the Sheriff’s Office a lump-sum payment of $820,000 for the duration of the contract from October 21, 2015 to June 30, 2020.
The complaint claimed that Hodgson was violating state law by requiring Securus to make payments to the Sheriff’s Office beyond the authority the legislature expressly gave the Sheriff to charge. The district court found there was authority for state prisons to collect commissions for phone services, but there was no such authority for ...
by Chad Marks
In a lawsuit filed on January 29, 2019, Securus Technologies, Inc., one of the nation’s two largest prison telecom companies, accused the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) of ignoring provisions of the Florida Constitution when exercising budgeting and appropriation powers, and doing so at the expense of prisoners and their families.
Securus had provided prison phone services to the FDOC for over a decade. The company also owns JPay, which provides money transfers, video calling and other services for Florida prisoners. In December 2018, the FDOC awarded a 10-year telecom contract to the company’s main competitor, Global Tel*Link (GTL).
In its lawsuit, Securus claimed the contract was improper because it had offered the best value to the state as required by Florida procurement laws. It lost the FDOC contract, Securus argued, because GTL agreed to provide $150 million worth of goods and services to the state’s prison system that the Florida legislature had decided not to fund.
Securus contended that its reply to the FDOC’s invitation to negotiate (ITN) showed that it was the top-ranked vendor by the Department’s evaluation team, as it offered the best phone services and lowest calling rates, which serve to ...
by Kevin Bliss
In November 2018, Shelby County, Tennessee – which includes the City of Memphis – renegotiated its contract with Global Tel*Link (GTL), the phone service provider for around 5,000 prisoners at the county’s four detention facilities. The new contract eliminates charges for all calls between juvenile offenders and their families or guardians.
The contract change fulfilled a campaign promise by newly elected Mayor Lee Harris not to support government fleecing of the public. County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, chair of the Law Enforcement, Fire, Corrections and Courts Committee, said she was also reviewing the county’s contracts with companies that provide food services and goods sold to prisoners, to find ways to improve them and make them more affordable.
“It goes towards how we’re humanizing criminal justice in Memphis, so that kids can not succumb to depression or isolation and continue to stay in touch with their families – which is a big part of reducing recidivism,” Sawyer said.
Shelby County and New York City are now the only two jurisdictions in the United States that provide free phone calls to some of their jail prisoners; New York made all jail phone calls free last year ...