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Articles about Phone Justice

Global Tel*Link Fails to Derail Prison Phone Suit but Dodges Class Certification

by Derek Gilna

An order entered by Western District of Arkansas federal judge Timothy L. Brooks on September 28, 2017 gave a mixed result to both sides in a hotly-contested lawsuit over excessive costs for prison and jail phone calls.

In this case, one of the nation’s largest prison phone companies, Global Tel*Link (GTL), was defending yet another in a series of lawsuits filed by prisoners and their families who have long had to pay inflated phone rates. The plaintiffs alleged “that GTL charged them excessive rates to cover the costs of site commissions it paid to correctional facilities, and charged them deposit fees that unreasonably exceeded the cost of processing deposits into prepaid accounts.”

Complicating the litigation was the fact that it was one of four lawsuits pending in the Western District of Arkansas raising various claims related to prison phone services – including whether phone calls made by prisoners were intrastate (in-state) or interstate (long distance). GTL was named as a defendant in two of the cases while its competitor, Securus Technologies, was named in the other two.

GTL, Securus and other prison phone providers have a simple business model: exploit the desire of prisoners’ families ...

Profiting Off Mass Incarceration: Detroit Pistons Owner Buys Private Prison Phone Company

by Brian Dolinar, Truthout

The election of Donald Trump has already given an economic boost to those profiting from mass incarceration. The stock prices of the two biggest private prison builders – CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group – doubled after Trump took office.

Companies that charge for expensive phone calls from prisons and jails also won big after Trump’s victory. One of the president’s first appointments placed Ajit Pai at the helm of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who promptly rolled back the agency’s 2015 decision to regulate the prison phone industry. The companies hailed it as a victory.

Shortly after the FCC’s reversal, Securus, one of the largest prison phone companies, announced it was being sold to Platinum Equity, a large investment firm for a reported $1.5 billion. (To date the deal has not been finalized.) Tom Gores, Platinum’s founder and CEO, is an investment mogul who also owns the Detroit Pistons. In 2011, Gores purchased the basketball team with the stated intent of improving the struggling city.

In the United States’ current economy, prisons and basketball are growth industries. Both profit from the exploitation of black bodies, pulling in people from poor neighborhoods in major ...

Former Mississippi DOC Commissioner, Co-defendants Sentenced in Massive Bribery Scheme

In January 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Henry T. Wingate sentenced Sam Waggoner, 62, to five years in prison for his role in a bribery scheme involving Mississippi’s former corrections commissioner. The sentence also included two years of supervised release.

Waggoner admitted to giving then-Mississippi DOC Commissioner Christopher B. Epps a portion of the money he earned as a prison telephone contractor. Waggoner told federal agents that before their investigation started, he wrote to Epps saying he wanted to end the payments.

“I don’t want the FBI knocking on my door in the middle of the night,” Waggoner said in the letter.

But Epps ripped the letter into “teeny, tiny pieces,” flushed it down a toilet and told him their arrangement would continue, Waggoner said. “He was basically my boss. He could hurt my business.”

At the time, in addition to serving as Commissioner of the Mississippi DOC, Epps was president of both the American Correctional Association (ACA) and Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA). [See: PLN, July 2016, p.1]. In 2011, the ASCA honored Epps with an award for Outstanding Corrections Commissioner.

Judge Wingate saw Waggoner’s attempt to end his involvement in the scheme as the result of a ...

More Prisons Banning In-Person Visits, Adding To Securus Tech's Pile Of Cash

by Tim Cushing

From the it's-ok-because-prisoners-aren't-human-beings,-amirite dept

Jails and prisons continue to sacrifice what few physical interactions prisoners have with loved ones on the outside to phone service provider Securus. The New Orleans Advocate reports a local jail is the latest in a long line of correctional facilities to ban in-person visits, replacing them with Securus communication software and hardware.

To jailers, this move just makes sense. It all but eliminates contraband smuggling and allows prisons and jails to allocate fewer staffers to monitoring prisoner visits. But it makes little sense for those stuck inside and even less sense for those on the outside who will be spending a lot more money on visits that used to be free.

At this per minute rate, it makes no difference visiting hours are being expanded. While it may sometimes be more convenient to Skype prisoners than visit in person, no one's asking for $0.60/minute communications to be their only option.

But this is something Securus has pushed for a long time. Back in 2015, Securus finally dropped a clause in its contracts that mandated correctional facilities using its equipment move to video-only visits. But that doesn ...

Seventh Circuit Passes on Opportunity to Weigh in on Police Use of Cell-Site Simulators

by Christopher Zoukis

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has refused to remand a case for further fact-finding about the government's use of cell-site simulators during investigations.

Damian Patrick was wanted for violating parole. In an effort to locate him, Milwaukee police obtained a search warrant which authorized the use of cellphone data. The warrant specifically authorized the collection of data from Patrick's cellphone service provider in order to locate him. Unbeknownst to the magistrate that issued the warrant, the Milwaukee police employed a cell-site simulator, also known as a Stingray, in order to find Patrick.

When Patrick was located, he was in the passenger seat of a car. A gun was in plain view, and he was ultimately charged and convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He appealed the conviction, arguing that his arrest was unlawful. Patrick initially made no argument about the use of a Stingray device, because the government did not reveal its use until after he filed his opening brief.

The appellate court found the arrest to be lawful, because the Milwaukee police "were entitled to arrest him without a warrant of any kind, let alone ...

FCC Chairman Called Out on Conflict of Interest Concerning Prison Phone Company

by Carrie Wilkinson

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) submitted a formal comment on three Federal Communications Commission dockets on August 9, 2017, accusing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who formerly represented prison telecom giant Securus Technologies, Inc., of having a conflict of interest. In its filings, HRDC noted that “not only does Mr. Pai’s conduct give the appearance of a conflict of interest, there appears to be an actual conflict.”

In a 2011 questionnaire submitted by Pai to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation prior to his initial nomination hearing to become an FCC Commissioner, he stated that as an attorney he had performed legal work for Securus and described the company as one of his clients when he worked for the law firm of Jenner & Block. Pai was confirmed by the Committee and joined the FCC as a Commissioner in May 2012.

Since then, Pai has vigorously and consistently taken action to undercut all efforts to impose federal regulations, including rate caps, on the Inmate Calling Services (ICS) industry, which benefits Securus – his former client – as well as other ICS providers. The lack of federal regulation guarantees Securus the ability to ...

No Right to Private Attorney Call for Iowa DUI Arrestee Prior to Consent to Breathalyzer Test

by Lonnie Burton

On June 24, 2016, the Supreme Court of Iowa rejected the appeal of man who claimed his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated when he was denied the right to make a private phone call to his attorney for advice as to whether he should comply with or refuse a chemical breath test. The state's high court found that no such right to counsel attaches prior to the initiation formal charges.

John Arthur Senn, Jr. was arrested on Labor Day 2014 for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. A preliminary breath test issued at the scene showed that Senn had a blood alcohol content of 0.165, more than twice the legal limit in Iowa. Senn was arrested for failing to obey a traffic signal and drunk driving and transported to the Des Moines police station for a chemical breath test.

At the station, Senn asked to call a lawyer for advice on whether to consent to the breathalyzer. Under Iowa law, am arrestee has one hour to comply with the test, or face an automatic two-year suspension of his driver's license for a refusal. Senn had trouble reaching his own attorney ...

Nevada Federal Court Dismisses Suit over Attorney-Client Phone Call Monitoring

by Lonnie Burton

Attorney Donald York Evans and his client John Witherow, a Nevada state prisoner, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the monitoring of privileged phone calls between them. After lengthy proceedings the suit was dismissed.

The Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) has a policy of initially screening attorney-client phone calls then occasionally checking in on the calls. The justification is to make sure the privileged status of the calls is not being abused to allow unmonitored communications with third parties or the passing of contraband information such as escape plans.

The defendants included three prison phone providers and DOC officials. The claims were numerous, including Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment due process violations and violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), 18 U.S.C. § 2251. The court dismissed Evans and the phone companies from the suit and granted defendants summary judgment on most of the remaining claims. A jury decided against Witherow on the remaining claim--whether the initial screening violated the ECPA. Witherow appealed.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court should have used the "normative inquiry" approach instead of the "reasonable expectation of privacy" approach when analyzing Witherow's Fourth Amendment claims ...

Going to Prison in Texas in 2015

by William T. Habern, David P. O’Neil, and Debra Bone


For over 30 years our firm has represented offenders and their families in prison and parole administrative and legal issues. The first version of this article was published in the Voice more than 20 years ago. But the Texas prison system changes so often we periodically update this material so that Texas lawyers and their clients and families know what to expect when a client must “do time.” The purpose is to reduce the fear and uncertainty every “first timer” (and their loved ones) anticipate after realizing he/she is going to prison—and how to conduct themselves once there.

In the past our law firm held private seminars for families and defendants who faced prison time. In the mid-’80s we backed away from doing that work as we were too busy with other types of cases. In the mid-’90s, as our firm expanded, we again started offering individual counseling seminars to clients and families prior to a family member leaving to serve a prison term. We hope the general information we provide will be of assistance to attorneys, their clients, and their clients’ families. In fact, often it’s ...

Consensual Use of Another Prisoner’s Telephone PIN is Not Oregon ID Theft

The Oregon Court of Appeals held on August 17, 2016 that the consensual use of another prisoner’s telephone PIN does not constitute the crime of identity theft under state law.

Jacob Thomas Ritter was incarcerated at the Marion County Jail, awaiting trial on domestic violence charges against his girlfriend.

The jail contracts with Telmate to provide telephone services, and the Telmate system features a two-step security process that prisoners must complete to make a call. Upon booking, each prisoner is assigned a unique personal identification number (PIN) that must be entered to access the phone system. He or she is then required to record a voice password, which Telmate’s voice recognition software compares to the voice of the person making calls with that PIN. If the voice matches, the call proceeds; if it doesn’t, the prisoner cannot make a call.

Jail policy prohibits prisoners from attempting to evade Telmate’s security protocols. The Inmate Handbook warns that “unauthorized telephone use” is subject to disciplinary action; that is, a prisoner may be punished for “using another inmate’s PIN, using another inmate to make calls, or any other activity that circumvents the phone system.” A notice posted near the phones warns: “Use ...