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Articles about Phone Justice

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, 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 ...

Despite Suicides, Jails Replace In-person Visitation with Video Screens

by Mike LudwigTruthout 

The Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna, Louisiana replaced in-person visitation through a glass partition with video calls in October 2017. Three suicides had occurred at the jail since August, raising concerns about the mental health of its prisoners.

Adorned with barbed wire, the beige walls of the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center rise up beside an earthen levy across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. Three men have killed themselves behind these walls in as many months, using nooses fashioned from bed sheets and whatever else they could find.

A deaf man named Nelson Arce, whose plans for enrolling in drug treatment were interrupted by a stay in the jail in 2016, died of a drug overdose last year. Arce leaves behind two children and family members who claim that he would not have been jailed for violating probation requirements had his probation officer provided him with sign language interpreters as required by law, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the state corrections office.

The lawsuit also claims he was denied access to proper communication services while incarcerated, effectively isolating Arce from anyone who could speak his native sign language, for weeks on ...

Mississippi Attorney General Settles with Third Company in Epps Bribery Scandal

by Monte McCoin

PLN has previously covered the continuing fallout from a massive bribery scandal involving former Mississippi DOC Commissioner Christopher B. Epps, including RICO lawsuits filed by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood against several companies involved in the scandal.

In May 2017, Alere, Inc., which had purchased Branan Medical Corp., one of the firms named in the bribery scheme, settled a suit filed by the Attorney General’s office for $2 million. And in August 2017, Global Tel*Link, the nation’s largest prison telecom provider, agreed to settle the RICO lawsuit filed against it for $2.5 million while admitting no wrongdoing. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.16; Oct. 2015, p.42].

Hood announced on November 29, 2017 that a third company had settled. Sentinel Offender Services, LLC, which provides electronic monitoring, paid $1.3 million to resolve the litigation. “As a company that continues to contract with the state, Sentinel Offender Services agreed to cooperate and settle the case for $1.3 million on a $2 million contract,” the Attorney General said in a statement. “We successfully disgorged them of their ill-gotten profit and then some.”

The Sentinel settlement brought the total damages paid to Mississippi taxpayers ...

Sufficient Facts for Discrimination Hearing

by David Reutter

A Colorado federal district court held that deaf prisoners and prisoners in contact with deaf persons alleged sufficient facts to survive dismissal of the Americans with Disabilities Act claim. The court said the prison’s archaic, faulty communication system for hearing impaired prisoners failed to accommodate their disability. 

Plaintiffs Cathy Begano, Kandyce Vessey, and Jennifer Saugause are all deaf prisoners at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF) who use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. Bionca Rogers is not deaf, but her deaf parents also communicate with ASL. The plaintiffs requested the use of a videophone to call family and friends. DWCF refused the request, replying that deaf prisoners are provided a teletypewriter (TTY) for phone privileges. Yet for this equipment to work, both parties must have functioning TTYs. None of the plaintiffs’ families or friends owned one, and the one at DWCP repeatedly malfunctioned. In addition, Roger’s TTY access was revoked because she was not deaf.

The plaintiffs filed suit seeking injunctive relief and compensatory damages. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, claiming Rogers lacked standing, that Begano, Vessy, and Saugause failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and that regulations related ...