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Articles about Phone Justice

How Chicago Police Convinced Courts to Let Them Track Cellphones Without a Warrant

By Jenna McLaughlin, The Intercept

The Chicago Police Department has acquired and used several varieties of advanced cellphone trackers since at least 2005 to target suspects in robberies, murders, kidnappings, and drug investigations. In most instances, officers only lightly described the devices’ advanced technical surveillance capabilities to courts, which allowed the police to use them, often without a warrant.

Now, after a lengthy legal battle waged by Freddy Martinez, a Chicago software technician, court orders and case notes were released, painting a more detailed picture of how the second-largest police precinct in the U.S. uses surveillance technology to track cellphones.

Martinez, who leads the Lucy Parson Labs, a Chicago-based nonprofit that advocates digital rights and transparency, originally sued for records in September 2014. He provided the released documents to The Intercept.

The Chicago Police Department did not respond to request for comment.

Cell-site simulators, or IMSI catchers, are typically suitcase-sized devices that emit signals over the wireless spectrum, masquerading as legitimate cellphone towers. When a nearby phone attempts to connect to a tower either to make a call or to check for service, it will instead link-up to the rogue device, beaming back information about its location, its ...

Video Visitation Companies Try to Stop In-Person Visitation at Texas Jails

In one of the latest attempts to squeeze money out of those least able to afford it, companies that specialize in providing phone and video visitation services to prisoners in Texas jails on a local monopolistic basis are moving to limit or eliminate free and in-person visitation. This forces prisoners' friends and families to use expensive remote video visitation, increasing the companies' profits and the "commissions" they pay the jails. But these profits do not come cheap. The cost is measured in diminished and broken relationships between prisoners and their families--especially their children. This loss of intimate family contact leads to increased disciplinary and contraband problems.

Psychologists and prison administrators have long agreed that in-person prisoner visitation has significant benefits, including helping maintain family bonds and providing a prisoner management tool. The former leads to calmer, better behaved prisoners who are less likely to return to prison after release. The latter means that visitation is so important to prisoners that the threat of losing it as a disciplinary sanction is sufficient incentive to improve the behavior of some otherwise recalcitrant prisoners.

When free in-person visitation is eliminated and replaced with expensive video visitation, those benefits may be lost both because ...

Wisconsin Jail Policies Unconstitutional But Not Enjoined

A Wisconsin federal court held that a jail's disciplinary, mail, and publication rules were unconstitutional. The court declined to enjoin those practices, however, essentially rendering its holding a mere advisory opinion.

On September 29, 1970 pretrial detainees of the Milwaukee County Jail (MCJ) brought federal suit challenging jail practices and conditions. The challenge narrowed as the suit progressed. Ultimately, only four challenges reached trial, to-wit: that disciplinary, mail censorship, reading material, and telephone procedures were unconstitutional.

On January 17, 1973, the district court issued an opinion holding that all but the MCJ telephone policies were unconstitutional.

First, the court found that the jail's disciplinary procedures did not satisfy minimal due process requirements because there were no clearly defined rules, giving notice of the conduct that would result in discipline. The court observed that Stewart v. Jozwiak, 346 F.Supp. 1062 (E.D. Wis. 1972) outlined minimal due process protections for sentenced prisoners including: an impartial hearing officer; advance written notice of the hearing; written pre-hearing notice of the charges; the right to present witnesses; the right to confront and question accusers; and a short, written statement of the hearings officer's decision. Foreshadowing the Supreme Court's soon ...

NY: Prisoner's Abuse Claim Survives Motion to Dismiss

On December 2, 2014, a federal judge denied New York City's attempt to dismiss a suit filed by a Riker's Island prisoner who claimed he was attacked and beaten by a jail guard without provocation or justification.

The excessive force case was actually the third of four lawsuits filed by Hugh Smith, now 40. In his first case, Smith sued because jail officials changed his telephone PIN number without notice. While that case was pending, Smith filed another case against Riker's Island alleging improper religious accommodations. In late May 2012, Smith and the city of New York entered in to a settlement agreement in Smith I for $750. Smith, acting pro se -- and who has a history of mental problems -¬signed a general release discharging the city from "any and all liability, claims or rights of action alleging violation of my civil rights, from the beginning of the world to the date of this general release."

At the time he signed the release, Smith had retained an attorney who had already filed notices of claim on two other actions against the city, including the excessive force case (Smith III) and a negligence claim alleging improper supervision by ...

Eighth Circuit Finds No Constitutional Right to Communicate in Chinese

On August 15, 2016, the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a case filed by a Chinese-born Missouri state prisoner who had his mail to and from China repeatedly rejected by prison officials.

Richard Yang – a Chinese-born prisoner incarcerated in the state of Missouri – filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri against numerous prison officials claiming his First Amendment rights were being violated when his mail to and from China was rejected by prison mailroom staff. Yang speaks very little English, and all of his family members live in China and speak no English. When he was first imprisoned in 2005, DOC officials allowed Yang to correspond in Chinese. But in late 2007 to 2008, and again in 2011, DOC officials refused to deliver his Chinese-language mail.

According to the Missouri DOC, Yang's mail constituted a threat to prison security because they had no one who could interpret Chinese. Yang filed several grievances claiming that he was being treated differently than other foreign language prisoners, whose Spanish-language mail, for example, was not rejected.

Yang filed suit on the mail delivery issue, and because DOC had ...

Prison-Area Cell Phone Companies Not Liable for Attempted Hit on Guard

In a March 25, 2015, opinion, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that cell phone service providers and owners of cell towers in the area around a South Carolina prison were not liable for the attempted murder of a prison guard ordered by a prisoner using a smuggled cell phone.

Robert Johnson, a captain at the Lee Correctional Institute in Lee County, South Carolina, was shot six times in his home. His wife witnessed the attack. The U.S. Attorney found that an unnamed prisoner used a cell phone to order the shooter, Sean Echols, to kill Johnson in retaliation for Johnson's seizure of cell phones and other contraband from prisoners. Echols pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy to use interstate facilities in murder-for hire.

The Johnsons filed suit in state court under the novel theory that cell phone service providers and cell tower owners were aware that prisoners were using smuggled cell phones to access the towers and carriers and this created an unreasonable risk of harm to others. The case was removed to federal court. The district court dismissed the case, finding that it had jurisdiction and the claims were barred by express and conflict preemption, South ...

Alabama Public Service Commission Enacts Prison, Jail Phone Reforms

Over the past several years, the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) has issued a series of orders that revise an October 2013 order related to rule changes for Inmate Calling Services (ICS). The PSC issued its most recent directive in February 2016, adopting rate caps set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

For decades, phone calls made by prisoners have posed a financial hardship for their friends and family members who pay for the calls, while providing huge profits for the telecom companies that hold monopoly prison and jail ISC contracts. “Commission” kickbacks paid to the government agencies that award the contracts have helped drive higher phone rates. [See: PLN, April 2011, p.1].

The PSC’s new rules considerably change the ICS landscape in Alabama.

In February 2014, the FCC implemented interim interstate rate caps, causing several ICS providers to inform prison and jail officials that they were ending commission kickbacks for interstate calls. Before the rate caps, a 15-minute interstate call from a state prison in Alabama cost $17.30 while an intrastate (in-state) call cost $6.75. The FCC’s rate caps limited interstate collect calls to $0.25/min. and prepaid/debit calls to $0.21/min. [See ...

Judge Orders End to Recording of Attorney-Client Meetings at CCA’s Leavenworth Detention Center

The Kansas Federal Public Defenders’ Office has challenged a scheme whereby officials at a detention center in Leavenworth, Kansas operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) secretly video-recorded confidential attorney-client meetings. As a result, on August 10, 2016 a Kansas federal district court ordered the practice to “cease and desist” immediately. U.S. District Court Judge Julie A. Robinson also ordered that all originals and copies of such recordings be surrendered immediately to the court.

The previously-undisclosed surveillance practice came to light when a private attorney, Jacqueline Rokusek, was advised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas that she had a conflict of interest in representing a client. She was allowed to inspect video recordings made at the CCA detention center and discovered that dozens of supposedly confidential meetings between other attorneys and their clients were on the same disks. She then alerted the Public Defenders’ Office and defense bar, igniting a firestorm of protest from criminal defense attorneys.

Experts noted that although the recordings of the meetings apparently did not include sound, the faces of the participants, documents and exhibits discussed were clearly visible. The words spoken could also be gleaned by lip-reading experts, they ...

No Way to Call Home: Incarcerated Deaf People Are Locked in a Prison Inside a Prison

By Mike Ludwig, Truthout

This story is the result of a nine-month investigation and part one of a multimedia series on deaf prisoners, as part of a reporting collaboration with the Making Contact radio program.

Use ASL? Click here to see a video interpretation of this story in American Sign Language.

Silent Voices is truly silent. The group's three members are doing what looks like a dance in the front of a classroom at a state prison near the banks of the Mississippi River, just south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, performing their version of the song "I Believe" by R. Kelly. Instead of singing, the performers are interpreting R. Kelly's lyrics into American Sign Language, or ASL, the sign language most commonly used in the United States. ASL is an animated language. Gestures, facial expressions and even foot-stomping the floor to a beat allow ASL speakers to add context, detail and music to their conversations. The three men in Silent Voices are stunning in this way. The performance is part ASL, part gospel choreography and it's contagiously uplifting -- in stark contrast with the backdrop of armed guards and barbed wire. The classroom erupts into applause.

Standing at ...

Securus Settles Lawsuit Alleging Improper Recording of Privileged Prisoner Calls

by Jordan Smith, The Intercept

Attorneys and advocates for people incarcerated in local jails in Austin, Texas have settled a federal lawsuit against telecommunications company Securus Technologies, with an agreement ostensibly designed to ensure that privileged legal communications between defense attorneys and their clients are not improperly recorded.

The suit, originally filed in April 2014 by the Austin Lawyers Guild, the Prison Justice League and several individually named defense attorneys, alleged that Securus recorded confidential and privileged communications between lawyers and detainees that were then accessed and listened to by prosecutors. Local prosecutors’ offices and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office – which manages the county’s jail facilities – were also named as parties to the suit.

The Intercept first reported on the Austin lawsuit in our November 2015 story about an unprecedented hack of a recorded calls database belonging to Securus. An anonymous hacker provided the data via SecureDrop, including records related to more than 70 million individual calls placed by prisoners to 1.3 million unique phone numbers over a 2 1/2-year period. In a follow-up story, we reported finding within that data at least 57,000 calls made by detainees to lawyers, including calls that individual attorneys confirmed had been set up in advance to be ...