Skip navigation

Articles about Phone Justice

Cost of Communicating with Prisoners Breaking Family Budgets During Pandemic

Most prisons have curtailed visitation, leaving families to communicate via phone calls, video chats, emails, and letters. Because prisons are cramped-quartered Petri dishes, families seek communication more often with their incarcerated loved one. The cost for services to communicate from prison are expensive, and as most prisoners rely on their family for money, those costs are born by their families.

Dominique Jones-Johnson said the cost of communicating with her father has strained her budget to the breaking point. Her father, Charles Brown, Jr., is serving time at Louisiana State Prison. A 15-minute call from the prison costs $3.15. By May 2020, Jones-Johnson had accrued nearly $400 for calls from the prison. The local calls would be free for anyone in the state but prisoners.

Jones-Johnson, who founded the charity Daughters Beyond Incarceration, said “the money stressed me out, but not talking to him stresses me out more.” That stress increased when Brown tested positive for COVID-19 in September 2020, and he was placed ...

Federal Judge Approves $25 Million Class Action Settlement Against Global Tel*Link

Under the terms of the settlement, individuals incarcerated in New Jersey prison and jails between 2006 and 2016 who used the GTL phone system, as well as individuals who received telephone calls through the company from New Jersey prisoners before June 2010 or in Essex County, N.J., before June 2011, would be able to file claims.

GTL also had been heavily criticized for requiring people receiving calls from a prisoner to make deposits into a company account and then keeping those deposits if the accounts became “inactive,” generally after the prisoner had been released. Plaintiffs had alleged in their initial complaint that, “Defendants fail(ed) to inform their customers that they will be charged a service or set-up fee ...

$225,000 Windfall in Lehigh County, Pa. But Officials Don’t Cut Jail Phone Costs

Pinsley’s March 5, 2020, letter noted that research shows “that contact with families during incarceration is closely associated with a more successful reentry and a reduction in reoffending.” He noted that prisoners face “enormous social and economic challenges resulting from their time behind bars.”

Pinsley recommended “the county use these funds to either reduce the cost of calls or provide additional assistance.” The county also could “invest in preventive measures that reduce the likelihood of incarceration and violence in our communities. The scourge of violence, particularly which afflicts our inner-city communities has had a devastating impact on families and neighborhoods,” he wrote.

County Executive Phillips Armstrong and Director of General Services Rick Molchany said revenue the jail generates goes back into its operations. They also noted, without providing details, that they had bolstered efforts to reduce recidivism. Under the new contract, jail detainees still pay the same amount for calls. The cost ranges from 21 cents to 25 cents ...

Massachusetts Jail Phone Cost Reductions Under Attack

These programs are funded through telephone revenue “commissions” paid to Cocchi by ICSolutions and to Evangelidis by Securus.

Phone rates in Cocchi’s jail are 12¢ per minute with “commissions” totaling about $820,000 annually. Phone rates in Evangelidis’ jail are $3 for the first minute and 15¢ per each subsequent minute, with “commissions” totaling about $300,000 annually.

Both sheriffs say they allow for free phone calls because of the pandemic. They are having to run three and four classes per program each week in order to meet distancing requirements, adding costs to keep them ongoing. They state phone “commissions” pay the costs for these programs.

They claim to be severely underfunded by lawmakers and cannot continue rehabilitative programming without phone provider “commissions.” Nonetheless, the state legislature in October 2020 was considering Senate Bill 2846 (previously Senate Bill 1372) that would require prisons and jails ...

San Francisco Eliminates Fees on Jail Phone Calls

Before this, California law authorized counties to charge prisoners for telephone calls and jail commissary items to pay for rehabilitation and reentry services. Under that law, San Francisco generated an estimated $1.7 million annually by charging prisoners 15 cents per minute for telephone calls — $4.50 for a 30-minute call — and a 43% markup on soap, toothpaste, food and other commissary items.

“It can really add up. It’s people’s families who really foot the bill,” said Stuhldreher as she recounted heartbreaking stories of prisoner family members being forced to choose between staying in touch with incarcerated loved ones and paying their utility bills. “Our research shows it’s almost always low-income women of color.”

While Black individuals make up less than 6 percent of San Francisco’s general population, they represent roughly half of the jail’s population, Stuhldreher noted.

San Francisco ...

Dallas County, Texas Jails Finally Enter the 21st Century on Phone Rates

Another positive change will be making electronic tablets available to the county jail’s population. It will cost detainees $5 per month to rent a tablet with educational programming included.

Movies, music and video games will be available for 99¢ to $12.99 per item. Incoming e-mail messages will be free. It will cost 24¢ for a prisoner to send responses.

Sheriff Marian Brown was initially worried about tablet monitoring and usage capabilities. Securus Technologies assuaged Brown’s trepidations, assuring her the only outreach possible will be to the ultra-secure Securus intranet — and then only when the tablets are docked at stations located outside of the prisoners’ cells overnight.

Sheriff Brown has opted for a positive, ...

Families Accuse Arkansas Prison of Poor Communication on COVID-19 Prisoners

As of June 14, Cummins had 963 positive cases of coronavirus out of the 1,900 prisoners housed there, with 65 positive staff cases. Prisoners Derick Coley, Morris Davis and Jim Wilson all contracted the virus and died suddenly and with little contact from the prison.

For-profit provider Wellpath is in charge of health care at the prison. According to NPR affiliate KUAR, at the time of Coley’s death “it appears that the most trained medical staff in the building that night were licensed practical nurses.”

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Coley was serving a 20-year sentence for a “terroristic act in relation to a shooting.” His girlfriend, Cece Tate, stated that Coley, 29, had stayed in contact with her and their daughter using a contraband cell phone.

Tate tested positive in April and all calls ceased. Tate and Coley’s sister, Tytiuna Harris, made several calls ...

Quarantine Fatigue vs. Escalating Prison Lockdowns (During COVID-19 & Black Lives Matter Protests)

KidsMates, Inc. Blog Post

By Ava Martoma, Age 13

Like much of America, I’m feeling quarantine fatigue. On the upside, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on … well, everything. Lately, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, and the Black Lives Matter protests have occupied my thoughts. Truth is, I’ll never really know George Floyd, but I do know how he suffered in the last minutes of his life because there’s video proof.

Watching the George Floyd footage makes me think about lockdowns at my dad’s prison. There aren’t any cameras to capture what happens behind prison walls, but my dad’s stories give me a glimpse of what it feels like to be a prisoner during a lockdown.

Prison Lockdown

My dad’s prison camp started a lockdown last fall, long before coronavirus changed our world. Guards discovered contraband in a common area and punished all the prisoners at the facility, even those who weren’t involved. Everyone lost access to exercise equipment, outdoor recreation, microwaves, classes, visits, and many other “privileges.”

When authorities found that a corrections officer was responsible for smuggling in the contraband, prisoners hoped that the lockdown would end. Instead, sanctions got tougher, family ...

COVID-19 Pandemic Leads to Unrest in Prisons Around the Globe

by Matt Clarke

The COVID-19 pandemic, or rather government officials’ inept reaction to the pandemic, has led to unrest in prisons around the world—especially in South America and the Middle East. This has resulted in the escape of hundreds and the death of dozens of prisoners.

The typical initial response to the pandemic was for prisons to suspend visitation. Americans might see this as a minor inconvenience in an era of social isolation outside of prisons, but, in many poorer countries, visitors are a literal lifeline—bringing their loved ones food, clothing, and medicine. For those prisoners, suspension of visitation is life-threatening. It also causes the prisoners high levels of anxiety about the welfare of their families while simultaneously making the families worry about their incarcerated loved ones.

Often accompanying the suspension of visitation is a ban on phone calls (if they were available to begin with) and a slow down or stoppage of mail as guard shortages cause the prison administrations to shift staff away from the mail room and to higher priority areas or limit the personnel entering the prison to essential positions. This lack of communication, along with a frequent failure of prison administrations to inform prisoners about ...

California Court of Appeal Upholds Dismissal of Challenge to Excessive Jail Phone Rates as Unconstitutional Tax

by Matt Clarke

On April 28, 2020, a California court of appeal affirmed the judgment of a lower court sustaining the demurrer of nine counties that were sued by jail prisoners and their families as a challenge to excessive jail phone rates as an unconstitutional tax under Proposition 26.

The counties contracted with telecommunications providers that are not parties to the lawsuit to have an exclusive right to provide prisoner telecommunications services in exchange for a percentage — generally over half — of what the companies charge for the calls. Los Angeles County is typical in that it receives the greater of 67.5% of the charges, or $15 million annually. The rates are exorbitant but, under Penal Code § 4025, the counties are required to deposit their commissions in an inmate welfare fund.

Plaintiffs alleged the commissions were an unlawful tax that violated the California Constitution because none of the commissions had been approved by voters. Proposition 26 (Art. XIII C, § 2, Cal. Const.) makes all taxes imposed by local entities subject to voter approval with seven exceptions.

The defendants filed a challenge to the legal sufficiency of the complaint called a demurrer. The basic premise was that the ...