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Articles about Phone Justice

Long-running Maricopa County, Arizona Jail Lawsuit Ends

by Ed Lyon

With all of the negative publicity concerning the Maricopa County, Arizona, jails associated with former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the unconstitutional conditions there began under Sheriff-elect Jerry Hill. It was during Hill’s tenure in 1977 that the lawsuit Graves v. Hill -- now Graves v. Penzone, the name of the county’s current sheriff -- began.

Initially the case involved access to attorneys through telephone availability and overcrowded conditions with three pre-trial detainees as plaintiffs. The suit expanded to include and eventually revolve around the jail’s detainees not receiving medical and mental health care that meets constitutionally required minimum standards.

A local legal aid organization, Community Legal Services, filed the original lawsuit, maintaining it until 2005. At that point, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took the helm, presumably in response to a 2001 judgment termination attempt initiated under the Arpaio administration.

In 1981, a multilateral consent decree was agreed to by the parties. In 1995, an amended judgment replaced the consent decree as jail administrators and staff continued to work at alleviating unconstitutional conditions. Therefore, the stipulated amended judgment did not include any determinations by the judge on the actual “constitutionally ...

Oregon Lawmakers Prohibit Prison and Jail Telephone Kickbacks

by Mark Wilson

This isn’t just an issue of economics,” said Oregon Senator Sara Gelser, the chief sponsor of a bill prohibiting jail and prison telephone contract kickbacks that passed nearly unanimously. “This is really about the humanity of the people that are in our prisons and the ability of people to remain connected to the people that they love, the people that they need to be successful in their programs in prison.”

A February 2019 study by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) found that prisoners as well as pre-trial detainees in the U.S. are charged up to $22 for a 15-minute phone call, though that rate has been declining over time. As previously reported in PLN, some companies which offer video-visitation – now available at over 500 prisons and jails in at least 43 states - require prisons to restrict in-person visitation, as well.

“The jail phone industry is broken largely because jail phone companies compete for monopolies,” said PPI’s Wanda Bertram. “They do this by sharing revenue with the facilities themselves…That means part of the contracting process is distorted by collusion between jail phone companies and facilities.”

During a February 2019 public hearing on Senate Bill 498, ...

Securus Technologies Rebrands as Aventiv

by Kevin Bliss

On October 8, 2019, a corporate reorganization listed Aventiv Technologies as the parent company of Securus Technologies, Inc., JPay and AllPaid (formerly known as GovPayNet). Securus has a long history of providing prison and jail phone services, and price gouging prisoners and their families with high rates. JPay has the same history with respect to money transfer services and electronic tablets provided to prisoners.

A spokesperson for Aventiv said the businesses will work together to provide innovative technologies and expand their products and services to a broader customer base.

On October 10, Aventiv issued a statement that described its new corporate structure as head of a conglomeration of companies offering a variety of services, mainly to corrections agencies.

“We are transforming the company at every level,” said CEO Robert Pickens. “Mindful of both our customers and our critics, we are working to ensure that our core communication services are more affordable, responsive and attuned to the needs of our customers, including corrections agencies, incarcerated individuals, and their families and friends. At the same time, we are developing innovative technology products and services that will better serve customers and consumers, and have broader application beyond the corrections marketplace.” ...

Lawsuit Proceeds Over Conditions at Orange County, California Jail

by Ed Lyon

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed in April 2019 against Orange County, California Sheriff Don Barnes was granted class-action status in September 2019 to include all detainees at the Orange County Jail (OCJ) whose telephone conversations with their attorneys were illegally recorded by GTL, the jail’s phone contractor. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.14].

Among the named plaintiffs are three criminal defense attorneys: Stephen Bartol, Walter Cole and Ronald McGregor. They all claim that their phone conversations with clients at the jail were illegally monitored and recorded by OCJ staff.

Sheriff Barnes admitted that contracted staff had improperly monitored 58 such calls, a number he later amended to 347. But the plaintiffs claim the number of phone calls illegally monitored and recorded was actually “in the hundreds of thousands,” based on the sheriff’s own estimate of 60,000 annual bookings at OCJ. The jail system has an average daily population of 5,400 detainees.

The plaintiffs in the case are represented by attorneys Joel Garson, Richard Herman and Nicholas Kohan. It was Garson who uncovered the illegal phone monitoring and recording activity at the jail when he discovered his trial strategy had been revealed to prosecutors during a criminal ...

Alaska Supreme Court Upholds Prisoner Visitation Denial

by Ed Lyon

Alaska prisoner Keilan Ebli met substance abuse counselor Kerri Pittman at the Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC). According to evidence gathered by GCCC staff and investigators, Ebli and Pittman entered into a personal relationship, which is prohibited by prison rules.

Photos of the two “kissing” and “displaying wedding rings within a secure area of the facility,” along with recordings of over 2,000 telephone calls between them within a two-year period, some involving sexual conversations, were discovered.

Pittman’s parents began visiting Ebli and making monetary deposits into his prison trust account. Pittman transferred to another unit, but their relationship continued.

After their investigation, GCCC terminated visitation approval between Ebli and Pittman and her parents to include their ability to deposit money into his prison trust account. Pittman was fired for “staff misconduct” and notified that she was “indefinitely barred from visiting any prisoner incarcerated at any DOC facility” but no restrictions were imposed on telephone usage.

Ebli grieved the visitation terminations and lost. He then sought relief in a superior court on behalf of himself, Pittman and her parents.

The judge ruled Ebli lacked standing to sue on anyone else’s behalf. The judge then denied Ebli’s summary judgment ...

New York: Prisoners Have No Expectation to Privacy During Jail Phone Calls

by Chad Marks

In 2012, Emmanuel Diaz found himself in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). While housed at the Rikers Island jail complex on multiple counts of burglary and robbery, he made nearly 1,100 phone calls. During some of the calls he made incriminating statements.

Diaz later went to a jury trial, and the state sought to introduce excerpts from four of the phone calls recorded while he was in DOC custody. Diaz objected, arguing that he had an expectation of privacy on the calls since he was a pretrial detainee and had not been convicted of a crime.

The trial court, after hearing from both sides, allowed the telephonic evidence to be introduced. The court found that Diaz had impliedly consented to the recording of his phone conversations because the DOC had given him sufficient notice that his calls would be monitored. When entering the jail system, all prisoners receive handbooks that outline the policy related to recording and monitoring of phone calls. There are also signs posted next to the phones, and a recorded message precedes every call that says the call is being monitored.

The trial court relied on this information ...

Oregon Prisoner’s Use of Another Prisoner’s Phone PIN Constitutes Identity Theft

by Mark Wilson

The Oregon Court of Appeals held on March 13, 2019 that a prisoner was guilty of the crime of identity theft because he used the personal identification numbers (PINs) of two other prisoners to access a jail telephone.

Michael Steven Connolly was confined at the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) in Portland, Oregon after violating a pretrial release agreement in a domestic violence case. The trial court prohibited him from contacting the alleged victim, identified only as K.

Nevertheless, while in jail, Connolly used the PINs of two other prisoners who were housed in his unit to call K five times. He used one prisoner’s PIN to make four calls and another PIN for one call. All of the calls were recorded.

Connolly was charged with five counts of identity theft for using the other prisoners’ PINs to place the phone calls.

An MCDC prisoner’s PIN is a combination of his jail identification number and date of birth. “A person commits the crime of identity theft if the person, with the intent to deceive or to defraud, obtains, possesses, transfers, creates, utters or converts to the person’s own use the personal identification of another person.” See: ORS ...

San Francisco to Cut Costs for Jail Phone Calls, Commissary Sales

by Ed Lyon

San Francisco, California mayor London N. Breed has unique views regarding people who have become caught up in the criminal justice system. Her views extend to the families of prisoners and pretrial detainees, too.

Breed, unlike many U.S. politicians, grew up in public housing. Further, her knowledge of the criminal justice system and the experiences of prisoners’ families is intensely personal: Her brother is currently serving a 44-year sentence after being convicted of armed robbery and involuntary manslaughter.

“It’s something that has never sat well with me, from personal experience of the collect calls, and the amount of money that my grandma had to spend on our phone bill, and at times our phone getting cut off because we couldn’t pay the bill,” Mayor Breed noted.

She is not alone in her zeal to ease the financial burdens on prisoners’ family members, including the costs of phone calls and the ability of prisoners to purchase hygiene and other items from the jail commissary.

San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, as well as Treasurer José Cisneros and his Financial Justice Project’s director, Anne Stuhl, are also firmly on board with Breed’s vision to ease the financial costs imposed on ...

Illinois Prison Phone Rates are Lowest Following Grassroots Activism

by Brian Dolinar, Truthout

“There were a lot of times my sons tried calling me,” recalled Annette Taylor, who regularly receives calls from her two sons in prison, “but there was no money on the account.” Those were some of the “hardest calls,” she said. “I would worry something was wrong.”

Families of those incarcerated have long complained about the high cost of phone calls from prison. A national campaign pressured the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to intervene in 2015, but the agency’s regulations have since been reversed by the Trump administration.

In Illinois, the price of prison phone calls was just drastically reduced, making it much easier for Taylor and others like her to stay in contact with their loved ones. Just a few years ago, Illinois had the most inflated rates in the country. According to a renegotiated contract, the cost of a call from prison is now just under a penny a minute. Illinois is now the state with the lowest costs in the country. 

Taylor’s group, the Ripple Effect (Reaching Into Prisons with Purpose and Love), a prison pen pal project located in Champaign, Illinois, was involved early on in the campaign to reduce ...

Imagine Pleading Guilty Because You Can’t Afford to Call Your Lawyer

by Victoria Law, Truthout

Imagine paying $20.12 for a 15-minute phone call. That’s how much a call from the Jennings Adult Correctional Facility in Missouri costs.

In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set rate caps on interstate calls from jails, prisons and detention facilities. Now, interstate debit or prepaid calls can cost no more than 21 cents per minute (or $3.15 for a 15-minute phone call). Two years later, in 2015, it did the same for intrastate (or in-state) calls, which make up 92 percent of all calls from incarcerated people. Prison phone providers filed lawsuits challenging these restrictions and, in June 2017, a federal court ruled in the phone companies’ favor. The ruling means that intrastate calls are not subject to FCC regulation and rates fluctuate wildly depending on each facility’s contract with the phone provider.

Jennings isn’t the only local jail with outrageous phone prices. The Arkansas County Jail charges $24.82 for a 15-minute call; in contrast, the same call from the state’s prisons costs $4.80. In Michigan, a call from the Benzie County Sheriff’s jail costs $22.56, but $2.40 from the state prison.

Even when phone costs aren’t as exorbitant, they still add up quickly. ...