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Articles about Phone Justice

Federal Judge Dismisses Class-action Suits Over Jail Phone Rates, Commissions

by Christopher Zoukis

On August 10, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers dismissed four related class-action lawsuits in which prisoners challenged the rates and commission kickbacks associated with jail phone service contracts.

A group of attorneys representing California prisoners held in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda counties filed class-action complaints alleging that the cost of phone calls at those facilities violated the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment’s unlawful takings provision, the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause and Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The plaintiffs said county officials contracted with prison and jail telecom firms Global Tel*Link and Securus Technologies, which charged “unreasonable, unjust and exorbitant rates” for phone calls made by prisoners, then kicked back “extortionate and outrageous ‘commissions’” to the county jails.

Under President Obama, the Federal Communications Commission took decisive action to reduce prison and jail phone rates; thus far in President Trump’s administration, however, the FCC has taken a hands-off approach to the prison telecom industry and refused to defend its own order capping intrastate (in-state) rates. [See: PLN, July 2017, p.52].

Phone calls from county jails can be extremely expensive, reaching over $1.00 per minute ...

The Prison Phone Industry Has Quietly Become Even More of a Duopoly

by Steve Horn

In little-noticed regulatory filings in New York, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio and Arizona in May 2018, telecom company Securus Technologies solidified its grip over the prison and jail phone service industry by announcing its acquisition of one of its competitors, ICSolutions, also known as ICS. First reported by Law360.com, the purchase further consolidates the duopoly of the prison telecom market, which is largely split between Securus and Global Tel*Link (GTL).

GTL and Securus currently own over 70 percent of the prison and jail phone industry, according to data crunched by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), a criminal justice research and advocacy organization. The regulatory filings – joint petitions by Securus and ICSolutions regarding the acquisition – also included the private equity firm TKC Holdings, the company that owned ICSolutions. TKC Holdings also owns Trinity Services Group and Keefe Group, which provide food and commissary services to prisons and jails.

“Securus will acquire all the issued and outstanding membership interests of ICS,” the filings stated. “As a result, ICS will become a wholly owned, direct subsidiary of Securus. Petitioners intend to consummate the Transaction as promptly as possible after the necessary federal and state regulatory ...

Lawsuits Filed, Renewed Push to Block Cell Phones After Deadly South Carolina Prison Riot

by Steve Horn

In the two months following an April 15, 2018 riot at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, South Carolina that left seven prisoners dead and at least 22 injured, the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) has renewed its push to get the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to approve jamming contraband cell phones in prisons and jails. Additionally, several prisoners who were wounded during the riot have filed lawsuits alleging that staff at the facility failed to protect them from foreseeable violence.

The incident at Lee Correctional was the deadliest prison uprising in the U.S. in a quarter century. [See: PLN, May 2018, p.12]. Bryan P. Stirling, director of the South Carolina DOC, has maintained that the incident was caused and orchestrated by prisoners over contraband cell phones – a position shared by Governor Henry McMaster.

But others say corrupt prison guards who sold cell phones to prisoners for upwards of $1,500 each are to blame. In a lawsuit filed against the South Carolina DOC in June 2018, Javon Rivers, who was incarcerated at Lee at the time of the disturbance, claims that “guards were allowed to assist inmates with illegal activities in exchange for ...

Exclusive! Prison Legal News Interviews South Carolina DOC Director Bryan Stirling

 

Prison Legal News Interviews South Carolina DOC Director Bryan Stirling

On May 25, 2018, Prison Legal News conducted a phone interview with South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling. The interview took place less than two months after a deadly riot at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville that left seven prisoners dead and 22 injured. At least seven lawsuits have been filed against the Department of Corrections since that incident, all centering around claims of negligence and gross negligence by prison staff.

            During the 30-minute interview, PLN investigative reporter Steve Horn discussed what actions Director Stirling and his department have taken since the fatal April 15 riot, including his involvement in an interstate task force that seeks solutions to contraband cell phones. The task force met on April 30, 2018 in Washington, D.C. and was scheduled to meet again in mid-June in Arlington, Virginia. Stirling spoke about what is happening with the task force, what he believes is the solution to contraband cell phones, the issue of corrupt prison guards, the investigations that have been launched concerning the Lee riot and much more.

            Below is a transcription of the interview, which has been edited ...

Mississippi DOC Announces Phone Rate Cuts

by Monte McCoin

The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) announced on March 17, 2018 that phone calls from state prisons would be less expensive for prisoners and their families, effective immediately.

“The reduced rate will make services even more accessible and affordable for inmates’ families and loved ones,” Commissioner Pelicia E. Hall declared. “Family members will be able to stay in touch with their loved ones without worrying about the cost. We realize that family contact is very important for rehabilitation.”

The cost for calls made by prisoners dropped from $.22 per minute to $.11 per minute, and associated fees were eliminated or reduced. The rate change applies to all state-run facilities and will soon be the same at the state’s privately-operated prisons. The MDOC’s new agreement with Global Tel*Link (GTL) established rates that align with the per-minute cap the Federal Communications Commission set last year for debit and prepaid prison phone calls – even though those rates never went into effect, as they were successfully challenged in court by GTL and other phone service providers and corrections agencies. [See: PLN, July 2017, p.52].

The MDOC uses “commission” kickbacks from phone revenues and prisoners’ commissary purchases ...

Nebraska Sheriffs Profiting from Jail Phone Contracts

by Christopher Zoukis

The ACLU of Nebraska issued a report on November 30, 2017 detailing the cost of telephone calls made from county jails in the state, concluding that phone rates remain “unconscionably” expensive. Profits for some sheriffs are so high that the ACLU compared the practice to “for-profit debtors’ prisons” of the Victorian era.

According to Omaha.com, the ACLU’s report included a cartoon used by telecom firm Encartele to promote its jail phone services. The image showed a sheriff sitting in a pile of money – the kind of money that could be obtained by contracting with the company.

Encartele is one of three for-profit firms that provide phone services to jails in Nebraska. Protocall and Securus are the other two. The companies are making so much money on phone services that they can afford to kick back huge “commissions” to county sheriffs. In Douglas County, for example, the exorbitant fees charged for jail phone calls earned the county $617,062 in 2016. Lancaster County received $397,566.

The ACLU said a prisoner in Douglas County making four 15-minute calls per week would pay about $42 a month – a little less than $3 per call – though ...

Exclusive: Photos Show Aftermath of Lethal South Carolina Prison Brawl that Left Seven Dead

by Steve Horn

WARNING: This article contains graphic images.

Photos obtained by Prison Legal News appear to reveal the bloody aftermath of a riot that occurred at the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina around 7:15 p.m. on April 15. The violence, which culminated in the deaths of seven prisoners, was the deadliest event of its sort in the past quarter-century in the United States.

            A source who requested anonymity and said he is currently imprisoned at the Lee facility in Bishopville provided PLN with a series of photos that appear to have been taken with a cell phone. The images show dead or badly-wounded bodies covered with blood and a blood-soaked floor. PLN could not verify the photos at press time, and our investigation into the authenticity of the graphic pictures remains ongoing.

            The images are posted below this article.

            Along with the seven prisoners who were killed, whose names and photos were published by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), another 17 prisoners were wounded and are reportedly being treated. According to the SCDC’s official account of the incident posted on Facebook and Twitter, the fighting between ...

Securus Fined $1.7 Million for Providing Inaccurate Information, FCC Approves Company Transfer Anyway

by Christopher Zoukis

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) slapped Securus Technologies with a $1.7 million fine for providing misleading and inaccurate information as part of its application to transfer control to another company, but still approved the transfer on October 30, 2017.

Securus, one of the nation’s largest providers of prison and jail phone services, applied to the FCC for permission to transfer control of the company to Platinum Equity, LLC in May 2017. The transfer would facilitate the sale of Securus to Platinum Equity, a firm owned by Gores Trust with Tom Gores and Holly Gores as trustees, for $1.6 billion. Tom Gores also owns the Detroit Pistons basketball team. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.48].

During the period allowed for public comment on the transfer, a group of prisoners’ rights advocates, including the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, filed a petition to deny the application. The petitioners argued that Securus had routinely violated FCC rules and otherwise “acted to demonstrate that it lacked the character qualifications to hold Commission authorization.”

In addition to its general unfitness to hold FCC licenses, the petitioners discovered that Securus had submitted a letter to ...

Tablets and E-messaging Services Expand in Prisons and Jails, as do Fees

by Matt Clarke and Ed Lyon

Global Tel*Link (GTL), one of the largest prison and jail phone service providers in the United States, has steadily expanded into other services that target corrections agencies. The telecom firm is now competing with Securus Technologies for a share of a lucrative and unregulated market: Providing tablet computers and e-messaging services to prisoners.

GTL supplies a custom tablet which it offers to prisoners at no cost. The company then recoups its investment and turns a profit by charging user fees for apps and services available through the devices.

Under a recent contract awarded to GTL by the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), prisoners pay $0.49 for each electronic message. The company also charges a monthly fee to access its streaming music service and video games in tiered subscriptions, priced from $5 to $15 per month.

Offering about 3 million songs, GTL’s music service costs twice as much as Spotify or iTunes for less than one-tenth the number of available songs. And with video games usually available outside prison for no more than $8 each, two months of GTL’s gaming fees could pay for all eight of the most popular games available from ...

Ninth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Deaf Former Prisoner’s ADA Claims

Jail officials “may not turn a blind eye to a deaf ear,” the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit fittingly declared in an August 31, 2017 ruling that reversed a summary judgment order in a lawsuit filed by a deaf former prisoner.

David Updike was born unable to hear and communicates primarily through American Sign Language (ASL). He does not read or speak English well. Having never heard English words, he is not proficient at lip reading because he does not know the shape the lips make to produce certain words. All of Updike’s friends and his ex-wife are also deaf, and he “lives in the deaf world.”

On January 14, 2013, police were called to Updike’s home in Gresham, Oregon for a domestic disturbance. Dispatchers were told the disturbance involved deaf people, but the responding officers did not bring an ASL interpreter with them. Despite claiming that a deaf houseguest had assaulted him after he refused to give the guest money, Updike was arrested and taken to the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) for booking.

MCDC has a telecommunications device (TDD) for deaf prisoners, and the county contracts with a private company to provide ASL interpreters ...