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Articles about Phone Justice

NY: Prisoner's Abuse Claim Survives Motion to Dismiss

On December 2, 2014, a federal judge denied New York City's attempt to dismiss a suit filed by a Riker's Island prisoner who claimed he was attacked and beaten by a jail guard without provocation or justification.

The excessive force case was actually the third of four lawsuits filed by Hugh Smith, now 40. In his first case, Smith sued because jail officials changed his telephone PIN number without notice. While that case was pending, Smith filed another case against Riker's Island alleging improper religious accommodations. In late May 2012, Smith and the city of New York entered in to a settlement agreement in Smith I for $750. Smith, acting pro se -- and who has a history of mental problems -¬signed a general release discharging the city from "any and all liability, claims or rights of action alleging violation of my civil rights, from the beginning of the world to the date of this general release."

At the time he signed the release, Smith had retained an attorney who had already filed notices of claim on two other actions against the city, including the excessive force case (Smith III) and a negligence claim alleging improper supervision by ...

Eighth Circuit Finds No Constitutional Right to Communicate in Chinese

On August 15, 2016, the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a case filed by a Chinese-born Missouri state prisoner who had his mail to and from China repeatedly rejected by prison officials.

Richard Yang – a Chinese-born prisoner incarcerated in the state of Missouri – filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri against numerous prison officials claiming his First Amendment rights were being violated when his mail to and from China was rejected by prison mailroom staff. Yang speaks very little English, and all of his family members live in China and speak no English. When he was first imprisoned in 2005, DOC officials allowed Yang to correspond in Chinese. But in late 2007 to 2008, and again in 2011, DOC officials refused to deliver his Chinese-language mail.

According to the Missouri DOC, Yang's mail constituted a threat to prison security because they had no one who could interpret Chinese. Yang filed several grievances claiming that he was being treated differently than other foreign language prisoners, whose Spanish-language mail, for example, was not rejected.

Yang filed suit on the mail delivery issue, and because DOC had also refused ...

Prison-Area Cell Phone Companies Not Liable for Attempted Hit on Guard

In a March 25, 2015, opinion, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that cell phone service providers and owners of cell towers in the area around a South Carolina prison were not liable for the attempted murder of a prison guard ordered by a prisoner using a smuggled cell phone.

Robert Johnson, a captain at the Lee Correctional Institute in Lee County, South Carolina, was shot six times in his home. His wife witnessed the attack. The U.S. Attorney found that an unnamed prisoner used a cell phone to order the shooter, Sean Echols, to kill Johnson in retaliation for Johnson's seizure of cell phones and other contraband from prisoners. Echols pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy to use interstate facilities in murder-for hire.

The Johnsons filed suit in state court under the novel theory that cell phone service providers and cell tower owners were aware that prisoners were using smuggled cell phones to access the towers and carriers and this created an unreasonable risk of harm to others. The case was removed to federal court. The district court dismissed the case, finding that it had jurisdiction and the claims were barred by express and conflict preemption, South ...

Alabama Public Service Commission Enacts Prison, Jail Phone Reforms

Over the past several years, the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) has issued a series of orders that revise an October 2013 order related to rule changes for Inmate Calling Services (ICS). The PSC issued its most recent directive in February 2016, adopting rate caps set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

For decades, phone calls made by prisoners have posed a financial hardship for their friends and family members who pay for the calls, while providing huge profits for the telecom companies that hold monopoly prison and jail ISC contracts. “Commission” kickbacks paid to the government agencies that award the contracts have helped drive higher phone rates. [See: PLN, April 2011, p.1].

The PSC’s new rules considerably change the ICS landscape in Alabama.

In February 2014, the FCC implemented interim interstate rate caps, causing several ICS providers to inform prison and jail officials that they were ending commission kickbacks for interstate calls. Before the rate caps, a 15-minute interstate call from a state prison in Alabama cost $17.30 while an intrastate (in-state) call cost $6.75. The FCC’s rate caps limited interstate collect calls to $0.25/min. and prepaid/debit calls to $0.21 ...

Judge Orders End to Recording of Attorney-Client Meetings at CCA’s Leavenworth Detention Center

The Kansas Federal Public Defenders’ Office has challenged a scheme whereby officials at a detention center in Leavenworth, Kansas operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) secretly video-recorded confidential attorney-client meetings. As a result, on August 10, 2016 a Kansas federal district court ordered the practice to “cease and desist” immediately. U.S. District Court Judge Julie A. Robinson also ordered that all originals and copies of such recordings be surrendered immediately to the court.

The previously-undisclosed surveillance practice came to light when a private attorney, Jacqueline Rokusek, was advised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas that she had a conflict of interest in representing a client. She was allowed to inspect video recordings made at the CCA detention center and discovered that dozens of supposedly confidential meetings between other attorneys and their clients were on the same disks. She then alerted the Public Defenders’ Office and defense bar, igniting a firestorm of protest from criminal defense attorneys.

Experts noted that although the recordings of the meetings apparently did not include sound, the faces of the participants, documents and exhibits discussed were clearly visible. The words spoken could also be gleaned by lip-reading experts ...

No Way to Call Home: Incarcerated Deaf People Are Locked in a Prison Inside a Prison

By Mike Ludwig, Truthout

This story is the result of a nine-month investigation and part one of a multimedia series on deaf prisoners, as part of a reporting collaboration with the Making Contact radio program.

Use ASL? Click here to see a video interpretation of this story in American Sign Language.

Silent Voices is truly silent. The group's three members are doing what looks like a dance in the front of a classroom at a state prison near the banks of the Mississippi River, just south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, performing their version of the song "I Believe" by R. Kelly. Instead of singing, the performers are interpreting R. Kelly's lyrics into American Sign Language, or ASL, the sign language most commonly used in the United States. ASL is an animated language. Gestures, facial expressions and even foot-stomping the floor to a beat allow ASL speakers to add context, detail and music to their conversations. The three men in Silent Voices are stunning in this way. The performance is part ASL, part gospel choreography and it's contagiously uplifting -- in stark contrast with the backdrop of armed guards and barbed wire. The classroom erupts into applause.

Standing at ...

Securus Settles Lawsuit Alleging Improper Recording of Privileged Prisoner Calls

by Jordan Smith, The Intercept

Attorneys and advocates for people incarcerated in local jails in Austin, Texas have settled a federal lawsuit against telecommunications company Securus Technologies, with an agreement ostensibly designed to ensure that privileged legal communications between defense attorneys and their clients are not improperly recorded.

The suit, originally filed in April 2014 by the Austin Lawyers Guild, the Prison Justice League and several individually named defense attorneys, alleged that Securus recorded confidential and privileged communications between lawyers and detainees that were then accessed and listened to by prosecutors. Local prosecutors’ offices and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office – which manages the county’s jail facilities – were also named as parties to the suit.

The Intercept first reported on the Austin lawsuit in our November 2015 story about an unprecedented hack of a recorded calls database belonging to Securus. An anonymous hacker provided the data via SecureDrop, including records related to more than 70 million individual calls placed by prisoners to 1.3 million unique phone numbers over a 2 1/2-year period. In a follow-up story, we reported finding within that data at least 57,000 calls made by detainees to lawyers, including calls that individual attorneys ...

Family Connections Bill Signed into Law in Illinois

Illinois Governor Bruce V. Rauner signed HB 6200, the Family Connections Bill, into law on August 22, 2016. Under the provisions of that legislation, domestic prison phone rates within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and Department of Juvenile Justice will be capped at $0.07/min. while the rate for international calls will be capped at $0.23/min., effective January 1, 2018. Advocates argued that the bill, which received bipartisan support, will reduce recidivism and help prisoners reintegrate into their communities after being released by making it more affordable for them to stay in touch with their families while incarcerated.

“We need to approach our criminal justice system with more compassion,” Governor Rauner stated. “I want those who did something wrong to face punishment, but we must make sure that the punishment fits the crime. We need to explore new avenues so that we’re balancing punishment with rehabilitation and not needlessly tearing families and lives apart.”

An order issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in October 2015, which went into effect at IDOC facilities in March 2016, eliminated all but three ancillary fees that can be charged for inmate calling services (ICS). As a result, phone ...

Massachusetts Prisoners Involved in Reform Efforts Transferred, Held in Solitary

Three Massachusetts state prisoners have been placed in segregation in apparent retaliation for their prison reform activism.

Timothy Muise, Shawn Fisher and Steven James, all incarcerated at the medium-security prison MCI Shirley, were taken from their cells late at night on March 23, 2016 and transferred to three different Massachusetts facilities, where they were all put in solitary confinement. While in solitary they had restricted access to phone calls and visits.

What do they have in common? They are all prison reform and prisoners’ rights advocates.

Muise, 52, and Fisher, 44, had recently organized meetings at MCI Shirley with members of the Legislative Harm Reduction Caucus, a coalition of 70 state lawmakers that works to address the root causes of incarceration. Massachusetts Rep. Benjamin Swan, a leading member of the Caucus, described it as “A group of progressive legislators who see the need for some reform in the criminal justice system and corrections as well.”

Meetings sanctioned by MCI Shirley officials and attended by correctional staff were held at the prison in October 2015 and February 2016. Muise and Fisher organized the meetings and attended. While James, 39, did not attend, he has been a prominent advocate for prison reform ...

The Fight for Comprehensive Prison Phone Reform Continues

As previously reported in PLN, the prison telecom industry has been successful so far in delaying implementation of the rate caps ordered by the FCC in October 2015. [See: PLN, May 2016, p.36; Dec. 2015, p.40]. And while the limits on ancillary fees were implemented in prisons in March 2016 and jails in June 2016, intrastate rate caps remain stayed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals after Global Tel*Link, Securus and corrections officials filed suit challenging the FCC’s order. Some prison phone providers have even increased intrastate rates, which are currently unregulated, to offset lost revenue from fees and interstate calls.

Faced with the reality of long delays while the previously-ordered rate caps work their way through the court system, the FCC made a strategic but difficult decision to increase the caps to cover phone-related costs allegedly incurred by correctional agencies. The goal of the rate cap increase was to moot claims in the pending lawsuit related to cost recovery by prison and jail officials.

Under the new rate caps, all debit/prepaid calls from federal and state prisons will be capped at $0.13/min. Debit/prepaid calls from jails with more than ...