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Articles about Phone Justice

Telecoms Exploiting Legal Loopholes to Price Gouge Prisoners and Their Families

by Jacob Barrett

According to a report published by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) on December 15, 2022, for-profit telecom companies are using loopholes in the law to price-gouge prisoners and their families on the cost of phone calls and video visits.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has slowly set regulatory guidelines which have resulted in significant reductions in phone call rates in prisons and jails. [See: PLN, Sep. 2021, p.12.] But firms providing these services have found ways to bypass the restrictions.

The PPI report found four classes of abusive fee tactics which the FCC is trying to reign in. First, the FCC has issued an order which should take effect sometime in 2023, setting provider fees at $5.95. The cap will stop for-profit companies from colluding with Moneygram and Western Union to inflate payment fees.

Second, the FCC has opened for public comment the possibility of banning “double dipping” fees. At least six providers charge up to 21% over the $3 cap on automated fees by adding a “pass through” charge to recover the credit card processor’s fee in the transaction. This is like getting home from dining out to find the restaurant padded your tab with ...

California Makes Calls Free for State Prisoners and Juvenile Detainees, Prohibits Telecom Kickbacks to Prisons and Jails

by Benjamin Tschirhart

On September 29, 2022, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed S.B. 1008 into law, barring government agencies in the state from collecting any part of the revenue from providing calls in prisons and jails. It also makes calls completely free at state prisons and juvenile detention facilities.

State law already mandated service quality levels by telecom providers for the general public, which the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is authorized to enforce. The new bill extends that protection to people held within the California carceral system.

Authored primarily by Sen. Josh Becker (D-San Mateo), the bill was introduced in the Senate in February 2022. It passed on August 29, 2022, with the affirmative votes of 54 Democratic senators, overcoming 15 Republican votes against the bill.

Addressing the telecom industry behind cell bars, the legislation first recognizes the importance of social connection, especially in the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders: They are granted completely free calls. So are adults in state prisons. State prisoners and youth in residential placement or detention centers must now be provided calls at no charge either to the person making or the person receiving them, “subject to the operational discretion” of the state Department ...

Welsh Prisoner Used Phone Hidden in Rectum to Snag Guards with “Flirty” Calls

by Jo Ellen Nott

A former guard and a former nurse at a prison in the United Kingdom – who both fell for “flirty” calls on a contraband cellphone from a “Romeo inmate,” British tabloids proclaimed – are now paying for their involvement with the convicted drug dealer. The one-time nurse is serving a six-month sentence handed down on October 18, 2022, while the former guard is awaiting trial set for September 2023.

The prisoner, Harri Jay Pullen, 25, began serving a five-year sentence in 2019 for his part in a gang distributing cocaine and heroin in South Wales. Pullen who is from Newport, was first sent to HMP Parc, where he met the nurse, Elyse Hibbs, 25, and guard Ruth Shmylo, 25. When prison officials suspected he was engaging in romantic relationships with staff, Pullen was transferred to HMP Manchester. It was during transfer that officials found a small cellphone tucked up in his anal cavity and discovered that he had used it to carry on the forbidden relationships with the two women.

Before he was transferred, Pullen had acquired the nickname “Romeo” for his manipulative ways with female staff. Hibbs, who was 23 at the time, met the ...

New York City Jails Admit Illegally Recording Over 2,200 Attorney-Client Phone Calls

by Anthony W. Accurso

On the last day of 2021, the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) revealed a stunning privacy breach: Over 500 detainees in city jails had their calls to their attorneys recorded. Worse, the recordings were then turned over to prosecutors.

The Constitution guarantees the privacy of these calls. The breaches were disclosed to three public defender groups in response to requests made under the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). PLN obtained copies with its own FOIL request in April 2022.

The three groups — New York County Defender Services, the Legal Aid Society, and the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem — had filed “do not record” requests with DOC. Each request listed the phone numbers of their attorneys. DOC was supposed to forward those numbers to Securus Technologies, its privately contracted phone service provider. Securus was then supposed to make sure that no calls placed from the numbers were recorded.

However, the company said lists were not properly forwarded. DOC countered that Securus had the numbers but recorded them in the wrong place.

As early as April 2018, the Harlem group faxed its request to DOC. But when asked about it, DOC said it ...

Maine Caps Price of Phone Calls in State Prisons and Jails

by Benjamin Tschirhart

On April 15, 2022, Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) approved H.P. 853, a new law capping the cost of calls in state prisons and county jails. Effective October 1, 2022, calls may not exceed the federal rate of twelve cents per minute in prisons and twenty-one cents per minute in jails.

Though it won’t directly lower call costs for state prisoners — the state Department of Corrections (DOC) already caps their per-minute rate at nine cents — the new law provides them with 30 free weekly minutes for attorney calls and 30 more minutes for other calls, anytime their account balance falls below ten dollars.

Randall Liberty, DOC’s ironically named commissioner, said that for prisoners, contact with families is “critically important to a successful journey through incarceration with us.”

Maine Recovery Advocacy Project director Courtney Allen, whose work with those struggling with addiction means she knows as well as anyone what sort of “journey” prisoners are on, nevertheless agreed that facilitating communication with friends and family is “more important than anything that you can do for people who are inside.”

But Liberty also fretted that the price cap could affect “programming” like weightlifting and television for the ...

The Catalog of Carceral Surveillance: Tablet Advertising That Can Also Issue Discipline

by Dave Maas

Imagine you’ve been arrested and are sitting in county lock-up. You need to make arrangements for bail, a lawyer, and a caretaker for your kids or pets. Maybe you need someone to bring your prescription or you need to talk to your AA sponsor. On top of that, you’re traumatized by the invasive booking process and scared to the bone of what might happen to you, all too aware that many people wind up injured or dead while awaiting trial.

An officer hands you a digital tablet and assures you that you can use it to communicate to sort out your affairs. It’s a glimmer of a lifeline … but then you try to use the device.

A pop-up opens on the tablet’s screen, and you’re forced to watch a commercial for a shady bail bond firm before being allowed to access the video call app. When your family member picks up, you both have to sit through another advertisement. When you finally get to talk, both you and your relative have the logos of a local law firm hovering over your shoulder, like the worst Zoom background ever. Throughout the call, your conversation is interrupted with ...

California Court Sides With Securus in Challenge to CDCR Contract, Dealing Only Temporary Setback to GTL

by David M. Reutter

On September 10, 2021, a California court set aside an award by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) of a contract to Global Tel Link Corporation (GTL) for telecommunications services for California prisoners.

The ruling disrupted GTL’s rollout of new tablets to state prisoners under the contract, which in turn had stuck a dagger in the heart of a tablet rollout underway by competitor Securus Technologies’ JPay, expanding on a pilot program launched at five state prisons in 2017.

At stake is the lucrative market for prisoner gaming, reading and listening material delivered via the tablets, which are also used to make audio and video calls. Those once made up the lion’s share of profits for prison communications firms, until the Federal Communications Commission began to reign in their outrageous rates. [See: PLN, Sep. 2021, p.12.]

As that saga was unfolding, in August 2020, CDCR and the state Department of Technology solicited bids by way of a request for proposals (RFP) followed by negotiations pursuant to the Public Contract Code Section 6611. The bids were to be evaluated under a system assigning each a maximum of 2000 points, 30% of which were allocated ...

Indiana Caps Phone Rates in State Prisons and Jails

by Ashleigh N. Dye

On July 1, 2022, a new Indiana law took effect that caps the price charged for phone calls in state prisons and jails. With the change, those held by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) now pay 12 cents per minute for a call. However, since most state prisoners don’t make much more than that per-hour working a prison job, the new rate still means they can afford a 15-minute phone call just once or twice a week.

Despite the price cut, the law is projected to increase call revenue as prisoners and detainees place calls more frequently at the new, lower price. Conveniently, that also locks in profits for phone service providers like GTL, which was able to kick back $12.6 million of its revenue from DOC prisoners to the state in the 2021 fiscal year. That kickback was not used for prisons or prisoner programming but to upgrade computer technology on the state government campus in Indianapolis.

Still, the sponsor of House Bill 1181 in the state senate, Sen. Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute), insisted that cutting the price of phone calls will reduce recidivism by enabling inmates to stay connected to their families. State ...

The Catalog of Carceral Surveillance: Monitoring Online Purchases of Inmates’ Family and Friends

by Cooper Quintin and Beryl Lipton

This article was first published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on September 7, 2021. It is reprinted here with permission.


Prison wardens and detention center administrators have, for years, faced what they believe to be a serious problem. While they can surveil every aspect of the lives of the people imprisoned in their facilities, they typically have no ability to violate the privacy and civil liberties of the friends and family of incarcerated people. Fortunately for prison administrators, Securus, notable for overcharging inmates for the privilege of communication with their loved ones, has done some thinking on the problem.

Earlier this year, Securus received approval for a patent describing a method of “linking controlled-environment facility residents and associated non-resident telephone numbers to ... e-commerce accounts associated with the captured telephone number” and “information about purchases made by a non-resident associated with the accessed e-commerce account.”

In other words, the patent imagined a way to capture the phone numbers of everyone a prisoner talks to, including friends and family, and to use that information to scrutinize their e-commerce purchases. (Note: After EFF published this post, Securus told EFF that it will not build the ...

Mission Creep: Prison Telecoms Scramble to Extend Their Reach

by Alan Prendergast

In a news cycle dominated by reports of war, plague and insurrection, a single press announcement from Global Tel*Link (GTL) managed to convey some of the oddest news of all. Flash: The creators of the nation’s most beloved children’s television show are joining forces with GTL, the nation’s largest provider of phone services to carceral facilities.

Big Bird is headed for the Big House. Bert and Ernie are facing hard time. The prison-industrial complex has made its way to “Sesame Street.”

The press release ballyhooed a $750,000 grant made by GTL to Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit production company behind “Sesame Street,” to develop educational and coping materials for children dealing with parental incarceration. It’s estimated that more than five million children in the U.S. have had a parent behind bars at some point in their lives, and the new materials would “strengthen connections for the whole family”—comforting kids, supplying tips to caregivers on how to talk to children about incarceration, and offering resources to imprisoned parents that “will highlight the importance of communication.”

The irony of GTL’s new alliance was hard to miss. Incarcerated people already have a deep appreciation of the “importance of communication,” thanks to ...