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Articles about Phone Justice

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 ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

PLN has been reporting on the prison phone industry for at least the past 30 years, from its inception to its current stranglehold on most means of human contact between prisoners and the outside world. This month’s cover story by Alan Prendergast reports on the public relations efforts by Securus and now-renamed Global Tel Link to burnish their reputations as corrupt, greedy leeches who profit by exploiting the poorest people in America. Rather than ask why these companies are so exploitative, a better question is: Why do they exist at all?

The United States has around 2 million of the world’s 10 million prisoners, more than any other country. It is also the only country which has an industry totally dedicated to doing nothing more than extracting wealth from prisoners and their families at every level. I have researched what telecommunications services prisoners in other countries have. It should come as no surprise that in places as diverse as Ireland, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, the Netherlands, etc., prisoners use Skype, WhatsApp and similar services to communicate with friends and family at no cost to them or their families. As most of the U.S. and the world moves ...

Prison Phone Giant GTL Cuts Prices in Miami-Dade Jails, But Only After County Taps COVID-19 Relief Funds to Replace Forfeited Kickbacks

by Ashleigh Dye

When prison telecom company Global Tel*Link (GTL) agreed to slash the price for calls that it charges detainees held by the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) in November 2021, it was only because advocates of the incarcerated convinced county officials to forfeit kickbacks the firm was contractually obligated to pay, effectively diverting money from federal COVID-19 relief funds to GTL in order make up the shortfall in the county budget.

Right at the federal cap on per-minute charges, GTL was charging fourteen cents for a minute of phone time to DCR detainees—$2.10 for a 15-minute call—providing a yearly revenue stream of $6.8 million. The county received 60% of that in a kickback euphemistically called a “site commission.”

After collaborating with prisoner advocacy group Beyond the Bars, though, the county agreed to forfeit those payments through the remainder of its current contract with GTL, which ends in July 2022, in order to reduce the per-minute call price to five cents for the approximately 4,000 people held in its three jail facilities.

“This is still way out of line with the trend towards ensuring free communication,” said Maya Ragsdale, the advocacy group’s executive director. “But it’s a ...

Prison Telecom Giant GTL Agrees to $67 Million Settlement in Class-Action Over Inactive Account Seizure Policy

by Anthony W. Accurso

Prison phone services provider Global*Tel Link (GTL) agreed to a settle a long-running class-action on December 20, 2021, with changes to company policies and up to $67 million to compensate customers for seizing funds in any account that remained inactive for 90 days. Though the amount actually paid will likely be much less, GTL will also pay almost $19 million in attorney fees as part of the settlement.

GTL, which changed its name to ViaPath Technologies on January 4, 2022, provides telephone service to prisoners in almost 2,000 prisons and jails spanning all 50 states, holding a monopoly in most, just as its major competitors do. [See: PLN, Sep. 2021, p.12.]

Paying for calls usually occurs in one of three ways: (1) prisoners purchase a prepaid phone card, which incorporates a fee above and beyond the number of minutes covered by the cost of the card; (2) prisoners make “collect” calls, with the call recipient agreeing to pay an exorbitant rate for the call, which gets tacked on to their phone bill; or (3) the cheapest option, which involves the recipient creating an “account” preloaded with some amount of money to cover the cost of the ...

Suit by HRDC Alleging GTL and Securus Violated Sherman Anti-Trust Act Survives Motion to Dismiss

by Douglas Ankney

A suit brought by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) alleging a price-fixing and kickback scheme by prison telephone service providers Global Tel*Link Corp. (now known as ViaPath), Securus Technologies, LLC, and 3Cinteractive Corp. (3Ci), survived a motion to dismiss by Defendants on September 30, 2021.

HRDC, which has published Prison Legal News since 1990 and Criminal Legal News since 2017, filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on behalf of a putative class of Plaintiffs who have paid, or will pay, $9.99 or $14.99 to receive a single collect call billed by 3Ci for either Securus or ViaPath/GTL, pursuant to their inmate calling service (ICS) contracts with governments operating prisons or jails.

Though this particular battle is being waged over exploitative pricing, the longer war with these firms will also have serious constitutional repercussions. As reported elsewhere in this issue, Securus and ViaPath/GTL are engaged in protracted legal battles over the illegal recording of prisoners’ privileged phone conversations with their attorneys. [See: PLN, Feb. 2022, p.36.]

In this case, the first move was made by Securus, which in 2010 launched two calling services:

• ‘PayNow,’ which charges a fee of $14.99 ...