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Articles about Phone Justice

New Jersey Prison Phone Class-action Suit Against Global Tel*Link Continues

A New Jersey federal district court denied a motion to dismiss filed by prison telecom giant Global Tel*Link (GTL) and its subsidiary DSI-ITI in a class-action lawsuit alleging predatory practices in providing phone service to New Jersey state prisoners.

On September 8, 2014, Judge William J. Martini held that although the plaintiffs in the suit also had a pending complaint before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that raised many of the same claims, a stay rather than dismissal was more appropriate. The case is yet another attempt to rein in exorbitant phone rates targeting prisoners and their families.

The seven plaintiffs, including a New Jersey state prisoner and her parents, claimed that GTL and DSI-ITI had engaged in “violations of federal and New Jersey state law arising from ... Defendants’ abuse of their monopoly power over phone calls made from New Jersey by prisoners by charging rates more than 100 times higher than market rates.” The complaint called the companies’ conduct “abusive, discriminatory and unreasonable,” and added the “state of New Jersey benefits financially from the Defendants’ monopoly.” At the time the suit was filed, the New Jersey DOC received a 41% commission kickback from the revenue generated from prison ...

From the Editor

The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, co-founded by the Human Rights Defense Center, has led the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to curb some of the more egregious abuses of the prison telecom industry. It has also helped focus increased attention from all sources, including the media, the public and those government officials not getting kickbacks from prison phone companies. While it is known that the companies record prison and jail phone calls on behalf of their government collaborators, what was not known is what exactly they did with those phone recordings. As this month’s cover story on the leak of prison phone call data indicates, at least Securus retains all the recordings on their internal servers.

Whether the data leak was facilitated by hackers or a disgruntled employee is unknown. What is known is that eavesdropping on phone calls, including calls made by prisoners to their attorneys, is apparently yet another service that the government has outsourced to private, for-profit companies. It’s unlikely that Securus is alone in these business practices. For years, prisoners and their attorneys alike have been skeptical of claims that their phone calls are not recorded by prisons and jails, and those suspicions have ...

Alabama Prisoners Bribed to Dance Nude for Doughnuts

Three Alabama jail guards have been charged in a “dancing for doughnuts” practice.

Pickens County Jail guards Demetrius Harris, Anthony Lavender, and Chance Draper were charged with felony ethics violations for coercing female prisoners to dance nude for donuts and cell phones.  The April 2015 grand jury indictment also charges them with theft.

The guards’ actions were caught in security cameras.  The sheriff said smuggling contraband by guards is a problem.  “One thing was doughnuts, but we’ve also had cell phones,” said Sheriff Abston.  “And in this particular situation we caught them smuggling extra food, doughnuts.”

The guards were seen bribing female prisoners to dance partially or fully nude in front of them. 


Courts Divided on Confidentiality of Attorney-Prisoner Email

The fact that prosecutors and corrections officials read emails between prisoners and their lawyers comes as no surprise to most defense attorneys, many of whom find it ironic that the very public officials paid to enforce the laws do not hesitate to disregard long-established professional confidentiality standards when it suits them. The fact that many local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), routinely monitor prisoners’ communications with their attorneys has come under increased scrutiny and criticism by judges and legal experts.

According to Ellen C. Yaroshefsky, a professor of law at the Cardozo School of Law, “it’s very troubling that the government’s pushing to the margins of the attorney-client relationship.”

Even federal judges disagree on the application of the attorney-client confidentiality doctrine in a prison setting. In Hawaii, U.S. District Court Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi found that treating electronic correspondence any differently than written mail made “no sense,” but reluctantly ruled in favor of the BOP since the prisoner-plaintiffs had waived their attorney-client privilege when using the prison’s email system. See: Arciero v. Holder, U.S.D.C. (D. Hawaii), Case No. 1:14-cv-00506-LEK-BMK (Sept. 30, 2015).

Federal prisoners ...

A Prison Telecom in Sheep’s Clothing

On April 6, 2016, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai conducted a Field Hearing in Columbia, South Carolina on the subject of contraband cell phones in prisons and jails.

The panel did not address questions submitted prior to the hearing by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News. Those questions dealt with the companies involved in the development of new technologies to detect contraband cell phones – including Inmate Calling Service (ICS) providers that have price-gouged prisoners and their families for decades with exorbitant phone rates and fees.

HRDC had inquired about the cost/benefit of cell phone detection services, and whether the cost for cell phone detection is passed on to prisoners and their families through inflated ICS phone rates. In the latter regard, HRDC inquired, “To what extent is the effort to eliminate cell phone use by prisoners a ploy to increase revenues through the government monopoly ICS phone system and its attendant commission kickbacks to government agencies?”

Additional questions raised by HRDC involved the smuggling of contraband cell phones by prison and jail staff, and whether proposed jamming technologies would affect people located near the correctional facilities where they are implemented.

“While Commissioner Pai ...

Advocates Leery of Cell Phones Given to Undocumented Immigrants

Immigration rights advocates are suspicious of a new government-funded program administered by GEO Care – a division of the GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison companies – that supplies cell phones to low-risk undocumented immigrants. Officials maintain that the $11 million cell phone program, reported by the Los Angeles Times in February 2016, helps ensure the recipients can keep in touch with their case managers and make scheduled immigration court hearings.

Those receiving the phones, which are provided at no cost, are generally families with children for whom there are few suitable facilities for detention. Approximately 25,000 immigrant families were apprehended at the southern border of the United States from October 1, 2015 through January 31, 2016 – nearly three times the number during the same period the previous year.

However, Jonathan Ryan, executive director of RAICES, a Texas immigrant advocacy group, was skeptical. “It is concerning whether the women are being tracked through their phones and whether their communications with counsel are confidential.... Considering the number of entities monitoring cell phones in general, it’s hard to believe they’re not being tracked at all,” he stated.

GEO Group, along with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has ...

How Prison Phone Calls Became a Tax on the Poor

by Eric Markowitz, International Business Times

On a recent sticky morning in a trailer park in Biloxi, Mississippi, Mary Jo Barnett switched on her 8-inch Samsung Galaxy tablet to speak with her 20-year-old daughter, Amber, who suffers from bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Amber is currently locked up 490 miles away in the Marion County Jail in Ocala, Florida, and these video visits are her only lifeline to her family and the outside world. 

Without communication, Mary Jo says she fears her daughter may suffer a mental breakdown or start a fight, which could lengthen her jail sentence. “Just getting to talk to her and interacting with her can make the difference in her mindset,” Mary Jo says. 

Communication, however, is enormously expensive for Mary Jo, a 52-year-old grandmother who lives on $733 monthly disability checks. The video visitations cost $10 per 30-minute visit, or $19.99 per month. Phone calls, meanwhile, cost $3.98 for every 15 minutes, plus a $9.95 fee to load money into an account. Part of the reason the calls are so expensive is because a private company, Securus Technologies, has an exclusive contract to operate the phone and video visitation system ...

A “Quantum Leap” Isn’t Far Enough for the Prison Phone Industry

The December 2015 issue of Prison Legal News detailed a historic October 2015 rulemaking decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to comprehensively reform the prison phone industry. Regular PLN readers are all too familiar with abuses by prison phone companies, which have long price-gouged prisoners and their families. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.1; April 2011, p.1].

The FCC voted to cap debit and prepaid prison phone calls at $.11/min., and collect calls at $.14/min. (to be phased down to $.11/min. over a two-year period). Prepaid and debit phone calls at jails were capped on a scale based on facility size, ranging from $.14/min. to $.22/min., while collect calls at jails were capped at $.49/min. (to phase down to lower rates over a two-year period). The rate caps for calls from federal and state prison systems were to become effective March 17, 2016, while the caps on jail calls were scheduled to go into effect June 20, 2016.

Pursuant to the FCC’s order, all connection fees for prison and jail phone calls were prohibited (e.g., for rates such as $1.50 to connect plus $.20/minute, the $1.50 fee ...

From the Editor

Welcome to the 26th anniversary issue of Prison Legal News! I would like to thank all the people around the country who have helped PLN and the Human Rights Defense Center grow and prosper over the past 26 years. This includes all of our subscribers, readers, funders, advertisers, book purchasers, attorneys, board members and other supporters. It is thanks to you that we have grown from a 10-page, hand-typed newsletter that focused mainly on Washington state to a national organization that, in addition to publishing a monthly magazine which has expanded to 72 pages, also publishes and distributes books, undertakes extensive litigation regarding the rights of prisoners and publishers, and can carry out and win long-term national advocacy campaigns like our Prison Phone Justice Campaign.

As the years go by it is all too easy to think that the more things change the more they remain the same, except that in the criminal justice context they usually get worse and we rarely see change for the better. Since we began publishing PLN in 1990, Alabama’s prison system has been in a state of perpetual overcrowding and crisis. Just like California and other states, nothing illustrates the political and moral ...

Second Circuit Allows Muslim Prisoners’ Bivens Claims to Proceed

Although Muslim prisoners held at the harsh U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have received more publicity, conditions of confinement for prisoners of Middle-Eastern descent in domestic prisons have also been abusive. So abusive, in fact, that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a lawsuit filed by Muslim prisoners housed at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in New York to proceed, affirming in part and reversing in part a dismissal of the case by a federal district court.

According to the appellate court, “This case raises a difficult and delicate set of legal issues concerning individuals who were caught up in the post-9/11 investigation even though they were unquestionably never involved in terrorist activity. Plaintiffs are eight male, ‘out of status’ aliens who were arrested on immigration charges and detained following the 9/11 attacks.” [See: PLN, July 2010, p.46].

The plaintiffs alleged that then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Immigration and Naturalization Service Director James Ziglar, MDC Warden Dennis Hasty and former MDC Warden James Sherman committed or caused “discriminatory and punitive” acts against them. Most of the plaintiffs were held in detention from three to eight months.

After reviewing the pattern ...