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Articles about Phone Justice

Nevada Federal Court Dismisses Suit over Attorney-Client Phone Call Monitoring

by Lonnie Burton

Attorney Donald York Evans and his client John Witherow, a Nevada state prisoner, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the monitoring of privileged phone calls between them. After lengthy proceedings the suit was dismissed.

The Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) has a policy of initially screening attorney-client phone calls then occasionally checking in on the calls. The justification is to make sure the privileged status of the calls is not being abused to allow unmonitored communications with third parties or the passing of contraband information such as escape plans.

The defendants included three prison phone providers and DOC officials. The claims were numerous, including Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment due process violations and violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), 18 U.S.C. § 2251. The court dismissed Evans and the phone companies from the suit and granted defendants summary judgment on most of the remaining claims. A jury decided against Witherow on the remaining claim--whether the initial screening violated the ECPA. Witherow appealed.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court should have used the "normative inquiry" approach instead of the "reasonable expectation of privacy" approach when analyzing Witherow's Fourth Amendment claims ...

Going to Prison in Texas in 2015

by William T. Habern, David P. O’Neil, and Debra Bone


For over 30 years our firm has represented offenders and their families in prison and parole administrative and legal issues. The first version of this article was published in the Voice more than 20 years ago. But the Texas prison system changes so often we periodically update this material so that Texas lawyers and their clients and families know what to expect when a client must “do time.” The purpose is to reduce the fear and uncertainty every “first timer” (and their loved ones) anticipate after realizing he/she is going to prison—and how to conduct themselves once there.

In the past our law firm held private seminars for families and defendants who faced prison time. In the mid-’80s we backed away from doing that work as we were too busy with other types of cases. In the mid-’90s, as our firm expanded, we again started offering individual counseling seminars to clients and families prior to a family member leaving to serve a prison term. We hope the general information we provide will be of assistance to attorneys, their clients, and their clients’ families. In fact, often it’s ...

Consensual Use of Another Prisoner’s Telephone PIN is Not Oregon ID Theft

The Oregon Court of Appeals held on August 17, 2016 that the consensual use of another prisoner’s telephone PIN does not constitute the crime of identity theft under state law.

Jacob Thomas Ritter was incarcerated at the Marion County Jail, awaiting trial on domestic violence charges against his girlfriend.

The jail contracts with Telmate to provide telephone services, and the Telmate system features a two-step security process that prisoners must complete to make a call. Upon booking, each prisoner is assigned a unique personal identification number (PIN) that must be entered to access the phone system. He or she is then required to record a voice password, which Telmate’s voice recognition software compares to the voice of the person making calls with that PIN. If the voice matches, the call proceeds; if it doesn’t, the prisoner cannot make a call.

Jail policy prohibits prisoners from attempting to evade Telmate’s security protocols. The Inmate Handbook warns that “unauthorized telephone use” is subject to disciplinary action; that is, a prisoner may be punished for “using another inmate’s PIN, using another inmate to make calls, or any other activity that circumvents the phone system.” A notice posted near the phones warns: “Use ...

Alaska Prisoners Riot Over Excessive Phone Rates

by Christopher Zoukis

A disturbance at Alaska's Lemon Creek Correctional Center left a housing unit uninhabitable after prisoners and guards clashed over the prison's excessive telephone rates, a "smartmouth" guard's comments on the subject, and other issues.

According to prisoners formerly housed in the dorm, on October 9, 2015, between 9 and 10 p.m., prisoner telephone calls were abruptly cut off and, fed up with the excessive phone rates, several prisoners became agitated by the fact that they would be charged for the calls anyhow. When a guard commented on the matter in an insulting manner, tensions were escalated. "This was triggered by a smartmouth and these outrageous phone charges, said Chris Davidson, a prisoner now in more secure confinement in an interview with the Juneau Empire newspaper. "That sparked the whole god damned thing."

In September, 2014, the Alaska Department of Corrections instituted a new telephone system operated by a Texas-based provider called Securus. The new system allows prisoners to call cellphone numbers, which were previously blocked, but it is more cumbersome to use and more expensive than the previous system. Alaska now charges prisoners $1.00 for a 15 minute local call, and long-distance ...

Prison Phone Update: Appellate Court Deals Major Blow to Prisoners and Their Families

by Carrie Wilkinson

In a September 2016 article on the fight for comprehensive prison and jail phone reform, PLN reported that while limits on ancillary fees had been implemented by the FCC, intrastate (in-state) rate caps were stayed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals after the FCC’s order was appealed by Global Tel*Link, Securus and other Inmate Calling Service (ICS) providers as well as various corrections officials. [See: PLN, Sept 2016, p.26].

As a result of that appeal the intrastate rate caps never went into effect, though interstate (long distance) rate caps ordered by the FCC in 2013 remained in place, at $.25/min. for collect calls and $.21/min. for debit and prepaid calls. Thus, in some cases – particularly local jails –unregulated in-state phone rates are much higher than long-distance rates. Within state prison systems, intrastate rates range up to $5.70 for a 15-minute call (in Kentucky), though in 22 states they are $.11 per minute or less.

Shortly before oral argument was scheduled in the D.C. Court of Appeals, counsel for the FCC advised the Court that due to a change in the composition of the FCC (resulting from the new ...

New York: Disciplinary Segregation Settlement Finalized; $1.6 Million in Attorney Fees Awarded

by Matt Clarke

On March 31, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin granted final approval to a historic settlement between the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and New York State that will usher in comprehensive reform of disciplinary solitary confinement in the state’s prison system. The reforms will result in the removal of over 1,100 prisoners from solitary.

LeRoy Peoples, DePayne Richardson and Tonja Fenton filed individual federal civil rights lawsuits that were consolidated into a class-action challenging conditions of confinement in disciplinary segregation in New York state prisons. PLN previously reported the settlement when the district court gave it preliminary approval. [See: PLN, Dec. 2014, p.42]. The court has now signed off on the agreement.

Expressing deep gratitude to the attorneys on both sides for working together to craft a settlement that reduces the prevalence of solitary confinement and improves conditions when it is utilized, the court noted that “such confinement causes the deterioration of the mental and physical condition of the inmates.” It also pointed out that, although the settlement involved only disciplinary solitary confinement, prisoners in administrative segregation would also benefit from improved conditions.

The agreement provides for a reduction ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

For the past 30 years, as mass incarceration rates have skyrocketed, so has the number of prisoners infected with hepatitis C (HCV). This is in part because so many prisoners are current or former intravenous drug users, and so much time and energy is spent arresting and imprisoning poor drug users. Illicit drug use behind bars and tattooing with dirty needles also contribute to the spread of HCV among prisoners.

For decades, prison officials have adhered to a policy of refusing to treat prisoners with HCV who were not exhibiting symptoms, claiming they were not yet in need of treatment, then once the prisoners were very ill they would refuse to provide treatment because it was too late or too expensive to do so.

With the recent advent of new drugs that can cure HCV with few debilitating side effects and shorter treatment regimens, the only excuse prison officials have for refusing to provide treatment is the high cost. Yet as repeatedly reported in PLN, when it comes to obtaining drugs to kill prisoners via lethal injections, many states will spare no effort or expense – purchasing execution drugs from compounding pharmacies and far-away countries like India ...

ICE Settles Suit Filed by Immigration Detainees, Pays $405,000 in Attorney Fees

by Derek Gilna

Immigration and Customs (ICE) officials in northern California agreed to settle a three-year-old federal class-action lawsuit that focused on ICE policies which unnecessarily restricted the ability of immigration detainees to communicate with their counsel and prepare for court hearings. The November 2016 settlement required ICE to pay ...

Global Tel*Link Agrees to Pay $8.8 Million in Class-action Settlement

by Derek Gilna

Global Tel*Link (GTL), the telecom company known for exploiting prisoners with high phone rates to maintain communication with their friends and family members, agreed on March 27, 2017 to pay $8.8 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act ...

Gangs, Privatization Create “Chaotic” Conditions in Mississippi Prisons

By David Reutter

Mention prison and most people imagine dark thoughts.  The reasons for those thoughts vary from a fear of losing personal freedom to the images from Hollywood that portray prison as a gladiator school where violence reigns and only the mean or wily survive.

In recent decades, American courts developed a theory of “evolving standards of decency” that demands humane and safe environs prevail in our prisons.  Politicians have touted the need to punish, but of late they have been advocating “smart justice” that once again puts rehabilitation into the mix.

Rhetoric is one thing; reality is another. An expert who recently toured a privatized MDOC prison found “chaotic conditions of confinement” that present an “ongoing risk of serious harm” for prisoners and staff. Prison experts, civil rights advocates, and the media have repeatedly criticized conditions that have resulted in the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) having a higher mortality rate than Detroit.

MDOC Commissioner Christopher B. Epps urged citizens to take a “hard look” into depictions of violence, gang activity, and corruption in the state’s prisons.  He touted MDOC’s positives, which he proclaimed is “a nationally recognized leader in corrections reform.”

Among the ...