A Los Angeles-based company has been selling to jails and prison systems phone-monitoring technology that searches for keywords, touting it as a way to discover COVID-19 infections early.
LEO Technologies developed the Verus system, which has already been deployed in at least 26 facilities in 11 states, including the Georgia prison system, at least seven Alabama county jails, and at least one facility in California. Some use LEO for non-COVID-19-related purposes.
The prisons implement Verus by asking their prison phone service provider to share call data with LEO, which routes the data though Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud-computing division of Amazon. AWS sends LEO transcripts and the transcripts are read for keywords such as “coughing,” “sick,” “sneezing” or “COVID-19” by LEO staff. Could anything go wrong?
“Obviously, people talking about COVID-19 on the phone does not necessarily mean they are infected with COVID-19. The whole world is talking about the virus right now,” said Shilpi Agarwal, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “It’s not at all clear that any of the monitoring and analysis would be accurate; we know that voice recognition technology is deeply biased. Moreover, we also know ...
Prisoners struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic — often without masks, sufficient cleaning supplies or the ability to social distance — are crying for help to the outside world by any means possible. Some prison authorities have responded by cutting off their access to phones and email.
At the San Diego County Jail, prisoners held up a homemade sign that said, “We Don’t Deserve 2 Die,” during a prisoner’s video chat. Three of those prisoners were sent to solitary confinement shortly thereafter.
In the Pine Prairie, Louisiana ICE detention center, contact between prisoners and members of the media via video chat included inmate complaints about the lack of protective equipment and the possibility of conflict between prisoners and staff. The result? Future video contacts were canceled by the institution.
On the federal level, those suspected of being infected with COVID-19 are often quarantined in special housing or solitary, during which time they are often without access to anything but irregularly delivered mail from the U.S. Post Office.
At the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), California facilities at Terminal Island and Lompoc, where over half of the prisoners tested positive when the Los Angeles County Board of Health ...
Groups in several states are drawing increased attention to the high cost of jail and prison phone rates, and pushing to reduce or eliminate such charges. HRDC, the publisher of PLN, has been a leader in this movement since 1992 and founded the Prison Phone Justice Campaign in 2012 to end the financial exploitation of prisoners and their families. It has achieved significant reductions in the cost of prison and jail phone calls. But much more is still needed. PLN has reported extensively on this issue over the past 28 years.
Unless someone has been through the criminal justice system themselves, or tried to stay in contact with a family member or friend in jail or prison, they are unlikely to be aware of the $1.75 billion industry that gouges consumers by providing phone services to prisoners.
There are few providers for inmate calling systems, though the two largest providers, Securus and Global Tel*Link, form a virtual duopoly in the market. Securus has contracts with about 3,400 prisons and jails in the United States, and Global Tel Link has over 2,400, according to a December 31, 2019 story from NBC News.
These companies “negotiate” ...
by Ed Lyon
With all of the negative publicity concerning the Maricopa County, Arizona, jails associated with former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the unconstitutional conditions there began under Sheriff-elect Jerry Hill. It was during Hill’s tenure in 1977 that the lawsuit Graves v. Hill -- now Graves v. Penzone, the name of the county’s current sheriff -- began.
Initially the case involved access to attorneys through telephone availability and overcrowded conditions with three pre-trial detainees as plaintiffs. The suit expanded to include and eventually revolve around the jail’s detainees not receiving medical and mental health care that meets constitutionally required minimum standards.
A local legal aid organization, Community Legal Services, filed the original lawsuit, maintaining it until 2005. At that point, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took the helm, presumably in response to a 2001 judgment termination attempt initiated under the Arpaio administration.
In 1981, a multilateral consent decree was agreed to by the parties. In 1995, an amended judgment replaced the consent decree as jail administrators and staff continued to work at alleviating unconstitutional conditions. Therefore, the stipulated amended judgment did not include any determinations by the judge on the actual “constitutionally ...
by Mark Wilson
This isn’t just an issue of economics,” said Oregon Senator Sara Gelser, the chief sponsor of a bill prohibiting jail and prison telephone contract kickbacks that passed nearly unanimously. “This is really about the humanity of the people that are in our prisons and the ability of people to remain connected to the people that they love, the people that they need to be successful in their programs in prison.”
A February 2019 study by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) found that prisoners as well as pre-trial detainees in the U.S. are charged up to $22 for a 15-minute phone call, though that rate has been declining over time. As previously reported in PLN, some companies which offer video-visitation – now available at over 500 prisons and jails in at least 43 states - require prisons to restrict in-person visitation, as well.
“The jail phone industry is broken largely because jail phone companies compete for monopolies,” said PPI’s Wanda Bertram. “They do this by sharing revenue with the facilities themselves…That means part of the contracting process is distorted by collusion between jail phone companies and facilities.”
During a February 2019 public hearing on Senate Bill 498, ...
by Kevin Bliss
On October 8, 2019, a corporate reorganization listed Aventiv Technologies as the parent company of Securus Technologies, Inc., JPay and AllPaid (formerly known as GovPayNet). Securus has a long history of providing prison and jail phone services, and price gouging prisoners and their families with high rates. JPay has the same history with respect to money transfer services and electronic tablets provided to prisoners.
A spokesperson for Aventiv said the businesses will work together to provide innovative technologies and expand their products and services to a broader customer base.
On October 10, Aventiv issued a statement that described its new corporate structure as head of a conglomeration of companies offering a variety of services, mainly to corrections agencies.
“We are transforming the company at every level,” said CEO Robert Pickens. “Mindful of both our customers and our critics, we are working to ensure that our core communication services are more affordable, responsive and attuned to the needs of our customers, including corrections agencies, incarcerated individuals, and their families and friends. At the same time, we are developing innovative technology products and services that will better serve customers and consumers, and have broader application beyond the corrections marketplace.” ...
by Ed Lyon
A federal civil rights lawsuit filed in April 2019 against Orange County, California Sheriff Don Barnes was granted class-action status in September 2019 to include all detainees at the Orange County Jail (OCJ) whose telephone conversations with their attorneys were illegally recorded by GTL, the jail’s phone contractor. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.14].
Among the named plaintiffs are three criminal defense attorneys: Stephen Bartol, Walter Cole and Ronald McGregor. They all claim that their phone conversations with clients at the jail were illegally monitored and recorded by OCJ staff.
Sheriff Barnes admitted that contracted staff had improperly monitored 58 such calls, a number he later amended to 347. But the plaintiffs claim the number of phone calls illegally monitored and recorded was actually “in the hundreds of thousands,” based on the sheriff’s own estimate of 60,000 annual bookings at OCJ. The jail system has an average daily population of 5,400 detainees.
The plaintiffs in the case are represented by attorneys Joel Garson, Richard Herman and Nicholas Kohan. It was Garson who uncovered the illegal phone monitoring and recording activity at the jail when he discovered his trial strategy had been revealed to prosecutors during a criminal ...
by Ed Lyon
Alaska prisoner Keilan Ebli met substance abuse counselor Kerri Pittman at the Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC). According to evidence gathered by GCCC staff and investigators, Ebli and Pittman entered into a personal relationship, which is prohibited by prison rules.
Photos of the two “kissing” and “displaying wedding rings within a secure area of the facility,” along with recordings of over 2,000 telephone calls between them within a two-year period, some involving sexual conversations, were discovered.
Pittman’s parents began visiting Ebli and making monetary deposits into his prison trust account. Pittman transferred to another unit, but their relationship continued.
After their investigation, GCCC terminated visitation approval between Ebli and Pittman and her parents to include their ability to deposit money into his prison trust account. Pittman was fired for “staff misconduct” and notified that she was “indefinitely barred from visiting any prisoner incarcerated at any DOC facility” but no restrictions were imposed on telephone usage.
Ebli grieved the visitation terminations and lost. He then sought relief in a superior court on behalf of himself, Pittman and her parents.
The judge ruled Ebli lacked standing to sue on anyone else’s behalf. The judge then denied Ebli’s summary judgment ...
by Chad Marks
In 2012, Emmanuel Diaz found himself in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). While housed at the Rikers Island jail complex on multiple counts of burglary and robbery, he made nearly 1,100 phone calls. During some of the calls he made incriminating statements.
Diaz later went to a jury trial, and the state sought to introduce excerpts from four of the phone calls recorded while he was in DOC custody. Diaz objected, arguing that he had an expectation of privacy on the calls since he was a pretrial detainee and had not been convicted of a crime.
The trial court, after hearing from both sides, allowed the telephonic evidence to be introduced. The court found that Diaz had impliedly consented to the recording of his phone conversations because the DOC had given him sufficient notice that his calls would be monitored. When entering the jail system, all prisoners receive handbooks that outline the policy related to recording and monitoring of phone calls. There are also signs posted next to the phones, and a recorded message precedes every call that says the call is being monitored.
The trial court relied on this information ...
by Mark Wilson
The Oregon Court of Appeals held on March 13, 2019 that a prisoner was guilty of the crime of identity theft because he used the personal identification numbers (PINs) of two other prisoners to access a jail telephone.
Michael Steven Connolly was confined at the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) in Portland, Oregon after violating a pretrial release agreement in a domestic violence case. The trial court prohibited him from contacting the alleged victim, identified only as K.
Nevertheless, while in jail, Connolly used the PINs of two other prisoners who were housed in his unit to call K five times. He used one prisoner’s PIN to make four calls and another PIN for one call. All of the calls were recorded.
Connolly was charged with five counts of identity theft for using the other prisoners’ PINs to place the phone calls.
An MCDC prisoner’s PIN is a combination of his jail identification number and date of birth. “A person commits the crime of identity theft if the person, with the intent to deceive or to defraud, obtains, possesses, transfers, creates, utters or converts to the person’s own use the personal identification of another person.” See: ORS ...