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Articles about Phone Justice

Arkansas Federal Court Holds No First Amendment Right to Lower Prison Phone Rates

On January 21, 2011, an Arkansas federal court held that state prisoners in Arkansas had no First Amendment right to a specific telephone rate.

Arkansas state prisoners Winston Holloway and Joseph Breault filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court alleging excessive kickbacks resulting in high rates for prisoners using telephones in the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) infringed upon their First Amendment rights. The magistrate judge assigned to the case issued a report recommending that a First Amendment violation be found and that the telephone service provider, Global Tel*Link (GLT), be enjoined from paying any "commission" to the ADC. The district judge rejected that part of the report and dismissed the suit with prejudice.

The ADC established telephone services for prisoners in 2006 by contracting with GTL. Under the contract, GTL paid for all costs of equipment, installation and service and giving the ADC a 45% "commission" on the fees it charges for prisoner-initiated calls. Those rates include a $3.00 ($3.95 interstate) surcharge per call and an additional $0.12 ($0.45 interstate) per minute. The calls can be collect or prepaid; however, persons prepaying for calls are charged ...

Court Certifies Class-Action in Lawsuit Over Washington State Prison Phones

On February 23, 2012, a Washington State court certified as a class action a challenge to the failure of the prisoner telephone service in some Washington State prisons to provide rate information.

Sandy Judd, Tara Herivel and Columbia Legal Services are class representatives for persons who received phone calls from prisoners at certain Washington State prisons between June 20, 1996 and December 31, 2000, a period during which rate information that was mandated by the Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission (WUTC) was not provided. They filed suit in state court alleging violations of the Consumer Protection Act, RCW ch. 19.86 and seeking class certification.

In 1988, the Washington legislature determined that provision of telephone services without rate disclosure was a deceptive trade practice. In 1991, the WUTC promulgated a rule requiring telecommunications companies to make rate disclosures to consumers, former WAC 480-120-141(5)(a)(iv). In 1999, it revised the rule to make it more specific, former WAC 480-120-141(2)(b).

AT&T received the contract to provide telephone services in the Washington State prison system in 1992. It subcontracted to several local exchange carriers (LECs) to provide local and IntraLATA services at specific prisons. T-Netix later took over from ...

Texas Legislature Authorizes Doubling of Prisoners' Monthly Phone Minutes

In 2007, when Texas became the last state in the union to allow prisoner phone calls, the limit on phone usage was 120 minutes a month. In 2009, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ) responded to requests by prisoners' families and doubled the monthly phone minute allotment to 240. Now, the Texas Legislature has passed a bill authorizing another doubling to 480 minutes a month.

No, the legislature has not gotten soft on prisoners. The reason for re-doubling the monthly phone minutes are purely cynical. The legislature is faced with a budget deficit and would like to plug the hole in the budget with money made by charging high phone rates to prisoners and their families. They currently pay 23¢ per minute for in-state phone calls and 43¢ per minute to call out of state.

Of course, the state gets a hefty kickback as well. So hefty that raising the limit to 240 minutes was projected to generate $7.5 million for the state to put into the Compensation to Victims of Crime fund. Instead, only $5 million was generated. This led Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, to introduce the bill authorizing another doubling of the phone minutes in hopes ...

Los Angeles Sheriff's Office Settles Visitor Beating Case for $1 Million

Los Angeles County Jail deputies have a reputation for brutal treatment of prisoners, and have paid out millions of dollars in settlements as a result. However, even a man visiting his brother Robert at Men's Central Jail and his wife were not exempt from police brutality. As a result of an altercation at that facility in February of 2011, Gabriel Carrillo received a $1.2 million settlement for his injuries at the hands of jail deputies. [See: PLN, March 2016, p.1].

Carrillo and his wife admitted that they both accidentally brought their cell phones in the jail's booking area, but when his wife dropped her phone, she was harassed and although he complied with jail personnel instructions to stand up, he was attacked, handcuffed, and then beaten so severely that he suffered serious bruising and temporary facial paralysis. He then lost consciousness, and when he came to, was pepper sprayed while still handcuffed. Carrillo alleged that after his beating, he was transported to the jail ward at county hospital, where he was treated for his injuries, and videotaped. He was also charged in a criminal complaint with resisting arrest even though his hands were cuffed behind his ...

Canada: Phone Access Vital for Incarcerated Mothers

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan hosted an event on May 11, 2016 that coincided with Mother’s Day to raise awareness about women impacted by the criminal justice system and to highlight the fact that most incarcerated women are mothers and were formerly the sole source of income for their families.

The Elizabeth Fry Society and other organizations challenged citizens to gain a clearer understanding of what actually happens to families when women are incarcerated. The children of female prisoners typically experience trauma from their parent’s imprisonment that results in a wide range of harmful effects. Further, Saskatchewan has a single prison for women, which oftentimes means those individuals are housed geographically far away from their loved ones. Indigenous families are disproportionately affected by the significant barriers to prison visits.

The province’s policies allow for “reasonable contact” between prisoners and their families and friends, but because of the geographic limitations of incarcerated women, often times the only way for that to occur is through phone calls. The government contracts with a Texas-based private prison phone provider that charges high fees to offset the cost of administering the program. Local calls cost around $1.50 and long distance ...

Texas Guards and Prisoners Rarely Prosecuted for Contraband Cellphones

According to an investigation conducted by the Texas Tribune, guards and prisoners are rarely prosecuted for the contraband cell phones found within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The investigation discovered that only 5% of the cellphone smuggling cases investigated by the TDCJ's Office of Inspector General from 2009 through 2013 resulted in a criminal sentence. During that time, the office examined 3,687 cellphones, but sought no charges for 2,142 of them and secured sentences in a mere 190 cases.

TDCJ officials say that it is hard to link a cellphone to a specific person and that prosecuting prison cell phone cases often falls to cash-strapped rural counties where the district attorneys may be more interested in spending their limited resources on local law enforcement instead of using them to tack an additional sentence on to a prisoner who is already incarcerated. Therefore, the prosecutors may be satisfied if the TDCJ simply punishes the prisoners using administrative disciplinary penalties.

The allure for guards to smuggle cellphones is money. Entry-level guards receive an annual salary of around $29,000, but a single cell phone can be sold for as much as $3,000.

"The temptation is there ...

Guard’s Suspension for Dragging Injured Maine Pretrial Detainee Upheld

Louisiana officials are resorting to unconventional tactics to combat the “international” problem of cellphones within its jails and prisons. Prisoner use of the contraband phones has become so widespread that rarely a day goes by that guards fail to find one.             

Several factors drive the proliferation of cellphones in jails and prisons. For prisoners, they are free of security restrictions that record their calls and restrict who they can call. Plus, collect calls to their families and friends come at an exorbitant cost charged by profiteering prison phone companies. For guards, they can earn extra money.

 “That $50 cellphone might sell for $200, so you have a $150 temptation to the correctional officer or visitor who’s coming into the prison,” said Burl Cain, warden of Louisiana State Penitentiary.

 “We find cellphones with inmates almost daily,” he said. “We found one today. We found one over the weekend.”

As PLN has reported, prison and jail officials nationwide are battling this contraband issue. One expert says it’s an issue that reaches beyond U.S. borders. “This is an international issue,” said Tod Burke, criminal justice professor at Virginia’s Radford University. “Every state that has a jail or prison has ...

FCC Quashes Company's Blockage of Discounted Prisoner Call Plans

Securus Technologies, Inc.'s petition to block discounted prisoner calling plans, such as the widely-used "Cons Call Home" program, was denied by the Wireline Competition Bureau in a hearing before the Federal Communications Commission. Securus was attempting to utilize correctional rules devised to prevent incarcerated individuals from calling unauthorized numbers to  prevent bypassing their significantly more expensive and monopolistic telephone network sold to correctional institutions in return for a share of the profit.

According to the Commission's findings, "We deny the Petition because we conclude that the precedent cited by Securus does not authorize the call blocking practice described in the Petition. As the Commission has previously found, call blocking is largely antithetical to the fundamental goal of ubiquity and reliability of the telecommunications network. We find that this situation is no exception. This Declaratory Ruling and Order furthers the Commission’s goals of ensuring the integrity and reliability of telecommunications networks."

In reaching its decision in September 2013, the FCC recognized that inmate calling services (ICS) are generally confined to a single provider creating opportunities for abuse and profiteering at the expense of the incarcerated and their families. The temptation of correctional institutions and law-enforcement organizations to profit ...

Louisiana Prisoner Phone Charge Scandal Pushed to Closed Door Session

The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) voted to keep the discussion about fines for companies that illegally placed surcharge fees on prisoner telephones behind closed doors.

City Tele Coin serves about 30 parish and municipal jails around Louisiana. In 2006, the PSC refused to allow the company to add surcharge fees for calls made by prisoners on jailhouse phones. Despite that order, City Tele Coin began adding the surcharge fees in 2010.

The PSC found City Tele Coin and Securus Techologies, which provide telephone services for prisoners at 10 Louisiana prisons, were collecting unauthorized surcharge fees upon their captive clientele. That March 2013 findings came only four months after the PSC cut by 25 percent the rates for all prison calls and ordered removal of all surcharges not specifically approved by the PSC.

Each violation for collection of unauthorized fees can result in fines up to $10,000. City Tele Coin offered $5,000 to settle the claims and Securus offered $2,500.

How to handle the matter resulted in a heated debate amongst PSC Commissioners, Eric Skrmetta, PSC’s Chairman, pushed to resolve the matter in a closed executive session that caused a raucous 15-minute exchange that saw Skrmetta ...

Maryland Court of Appeals: Police Must Have Warrant for "Stingray" Phone Tracking

According to criminal defense attorneys in Baltimore, Maryland, at least 200 individuals are now sitting in prison based upon illegally-obtained cell phone records obtained from the use of "stingray" tracking devices.  The suitcase-sized eavesdropping device mimics a cell-phone tower, recording information from cell phones of suspects.  The Court of Appeals ruled that the conviction obtained by the practice must be set aside.

According to the court,  "This case presents a Fourth Amendment issue of first impression in this State: whether a cell phone-a piece of technology so ubiquitous as to be on the person practically every citizen-may be transformed into a real-time tracking device by the government without a warrant." The court's answer: a emphatic, "no!"

USA Today has been in the forefront in an investigation for the past several months detailing the secret and warrantless use of this eavesdropping device, despite the strenuous efforts of law enforcement and the FBI.  The Maryland decision marks the first decision by an appellate court finding it a Fourth Amendment violation.

In May, 2014, the court said, "the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) used an active cell site simulator, without a warrant, to locate Appellee Kerron Andrews was wanted on charges of ...