Skip navigation

Articles about Phone Justice

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 ...

French Officials to Install Phones in 50,000 Prison Cells

by Monte McCoin

In a bold move designed to reduce cell phone trafficking and improve rehabilitative efforts, on January 2, 2018, French officials opened the bidding process for a telecom provider to install landline telephones in each of 50,000 cells in 178 prisons. The justice ministry said the program was being launched after “successful tests of this experiment” at a facility in Montmedy in northeast France.

Authorities noted a 31% drop in contraband cell phone seizures since installing phones in cells at Montmedy in July 2016, compared with the same period a year earlier.

“The phones have eased tensions inside the prison,” the ministry said. “It helps with civil reintegration, by maintaining family ties,” it added, saying the main goal was to “cut cell phone trafficking.”

The International Prison Observatory, a French advocacy group, welcomed the move but criticized the high cost of making calls. “A phone in each cell allows a degree of intimacy when speaking with family members,” noted François Bes, a member of the organization. “More important, the fact that you can call when you want can let them speak with children after school,” she said. The new freedom that allows ...

Maine DOC's Dirty Trick in Prisoner Lawsuit Challenging Food and Phone

by Christopher Zoukis

The legal eagles at the Maine Department of Corrections have successfully okie-doked prisoner Kevin J. Collins out of $150 in his lawsuit challenging food services and the prison's telephone system.

Collins filed his lawsuit appealing the denial of his grievances in December 2012. He alleged indigency, and included a cover letter stating that he would be sending a copy of his general client account statement, as is required by Maine law when a prisoner claims indigent status. After being served, the DOC moved that the case be stayed until Collins paid the full $150 filing fee. The court agreed and ordered Collins to pay the fee within 90 days. Collins did so.

The DOC then pulled a classic dirty trick, and moved that the case be dismissed because Collins hadn't filed the required copy of his general client account statement within 30 days. Despite the fact that he had already paid the full filing fee, the court dismissed the case. Score one for the illustrious seekers of justice at the Maine DOC.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court may not have been amused, however. Despite its own dismissal of Collins' appeal for the same exact reason--failure to ...

WA: Jail Phone Conversations Not Private, May Be Used By Prosecutors

On July 25, 2016, the Washington State Court of Appeals,  Division One, held that neither a prisoner or the person on the other end of the phone have an expectation of privacy in a jail phone call and that conversation can be used as evidence in a prosecution against the non-prisoner.

Zakaria Dare was convicted of robbery. Before trial he was housed in the King County Jail in Seattle with his codefendant, Mohamed Abdi Ali. Dere posted bond and was released. While free, Dere received several phone calls from Ali, who was still in jail. Their conversations were recorded by the jail's telephone system. According to court documents, the recordings "provided evidence of Dare's complicity in the robbery and were used by the State at trial."

Dere, who had moved to suppress the recordings as a violation of his privacy rights, appealed his conviction after the trial court denied that motion and Dere was convicted at a trial which included the jail phone recordings as evidence.

The Court of Appeals had no problem concluding that "Dere's conversations with Ali were not private communications." The court pointed to two factors that established that neither Dere nor Ali ...

Georgia Prison Contraband Investigation Nets 130 Arrests, Guilty Pleas

by David M. Reutter

About 130 people have been arrested following a joint two-year investigation by the FBI and the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC). Indictments for 75 of the arrestees were announced in September 2015; another 46 indictments, all involving current or former prison employees, were reported in February 2016. [See: PLN, March 2017, p.38].

Known as “Operation Ghost Guard,” the investigation targeted contraband in GDOC facilities and crimes perpetuated by prisoners through cell phones and outside accomplices.

“The indictments allege that inmates managed and directed a number of fraud schemes that victimized citizens from across the country from within the Georgia prison system using contraband cell phones,” said John A. Horn, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

State prisoner Kevin Patterson, reportedly a member of the Ghost Face Gang who trafficked meth and heroin prior to his incarceration, was busted after state and federal law enforcement officials, relying on a confidential source, recorded him directing the sale of tens of thousands of dollars in drugs from his cell in July 2015, using a cell phone.

“The unfortunate common denominator to this criminal conduct,” Horn noted, “is the pervasive availability of contraband ...

$250,000 Paid By Virginia Jail to Settle Deaf Prisoner Suit

In December 2016, a $250,000 settlement was reached in a lawsuit brought by a deaf prisoner who was effectively unable to communicate during a six-week stay at a jail in Arlington County, Virginia. The suit pushed the sheriff’s office to implement new procedures to accommodate prisoners with disabilities.

Abreham ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

By now all PLN subscribers should have received our fundraiser mailing which includes our 2016 annual report and details our many activities, ranging from publishing and litigation to advocacy and media outreach. This provides a great overview of the depth and breadth of everything we do. We rely on donors like you to fund our advocacy and activism above and beyond publishing Prison Legal News; for example, our Prison Phone Justice and Stop Prison Profiteering campaigns rely almost entirely on funding from our readers.

All donations, no matter how large or small, make a difference in the work we do. Contributions are tax deductible and will have a real-world impact on the lives of prisoners around the nation. Please encourage your friends and family to make donations to support our work as well. If your prison or jail phone bill has gone down in the past 5 years thanks to our Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, why not donate 20% of the savings so we can continue working on these issues?

About two or three weeks after receiving this copy of PLN, all our subscribers will receive a free introductory issue of Criminal Legal News, our new ...