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Articles about Phone Justice

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 ...

D.C. Circuit Court Partially Stays FCC Order Capping Prison and Jail Phone Rates

Over 1.5 million families with loved ones in state and federal prisons will experience significant financial relief with respect to the costs of Inmate Calling Services (ICS) beginning March 17, 2016, despite the best efforts of several major ICS providers, including Global Tel*Link, Securus and Telmate, and a court-ordered partial stay on rate caps.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on October 22, 2015 to enact reforms to protect families that rely on phone calls to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.40]. ICS providers wasted no time in appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in an attempt to invalidate the FCC’s order, so they can continue to prey on prisoners’ families through inflated phone rates and exorbitant fees.

Historically, the cost of prison phone calls has been extremely high – more than $1.00 per minute in many cases. Under the leadership of Commissioner Mignon Clyburn as Acting Chair, the FCC took the first step in reforming the prison phone industry with a historic vote in August 2013 to cap interstate (long distance) ICS calls with interim rates of $0.25/min. for collect ...

From the Editor

Recent decades have seen the rise of not only private, for-profit prisons but also the privatization of other aspects of corrections systems, most notably the provision of medical care. As with prison privatization, the only people who have benefited are the owners of and investors in the companies. Everyone else – prisoners, taxpayers and the government itself – has received short shrift with little to show for privatization except empty, unrealized promises of cost savings.

The prison medical industry is dominated by a few large corporations such as Corizon, Centurion and Wexford Health Sources, which are the core oligopoly companies. There are smaller players, too, though most will likely eventually be bought out by one of the larger ones. These smaller firms typically operate at the regional and local levels, and rarely make national news or headlines. Their business model is the same: to provide as few services as possible while billing the government as much as possible. This month’s cover story examines the California Forensic Medical Group, one of those small regional companies whose body count and track record of inadequate care, negligence, incompetence and greed puts it in the running with the larger corporations in the prison medical industry ...

Bids for Florida DOC Video Visitation Technology Result in Lawsuit

On March 7, 2014, the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) released a request for proposal (RFP) seeking a five-year contract with a vendor to install telecommunications services in its prisons. Proposals were submitted by Century Link to Public Communications, Inc., Securus Technologies, Global Tel*Link Corp. and HomeWav, LLC.

The proposal consisted of five questions to be answered by bidders. Answers would then be numerically graded by DOC representatives. Based on the numerical grade given for each answer a company could receive up to 1,000 points. The company receiving the highest score would be awarded a contract to provide telephone services and video visitation technology to the DOC.

When all the proposals were scored Global Tel*Link Corp. was granted the contract. Securus and Century Link filed suit with the Divisions of Administrative Hearings (DAH) alleging that the contract awarded to Global Tel*Link Corp. violated legal standards. § 120.57(3)(f) of the Florida Statutes by not offering a fair and impartial evaluation to all participating bidders.

According to the DAH findings, the entire process was flawed with a variety of errors by everyone involved. Neither Securus nor Global submitted blended rates for both the telephone service and ...

Iowa Court Effectively Bars Lifer From Spending Any Money While In Prison

Tracey Richter, serving a life sentence at the Mitchellville women's prison in Iowa, learned in April 2014 that she faces a new punishment as to her 2001 murder conviction: a garnishment order from the state that ensures that every penny she ever earns in prison will be seized by the state toward a $240,000 bill for court costs and restitution. This means that not only will Richter be prohibited from ever buying hygiene items or food items from the prison commissary, she cannot even make a telephone call, as her telephone account is specifically listed in the court order as being subject to garnishment.

State DOC Assistant Director Fred Scaletta said that prison officials could not recall such an order in the past, but that the DOC has no choice but to comply with it. DOC policy normally exempts money in a prisoner's telephone account from deductions to pay restitution and other costs, Scaletta said.

Sac County Attorney Ben Smith could care less. "The mother of the boy Richter murdered cannot call her son, so why should Richter be able to call her family for hours on end whenever she feels like it?"  Smith asked. The Iowa ...

Prison Phone Companies Seek New Revenue Source in Electronic Messaging

Mike Ludwig, Truthout

Would you still use email if every message had a word limit and was automatically declared to be the property of your email provider?

What if every email cost $1 to send and the receiver could not answer back by simply hitting "reply?"

"Calling the electronic messaging offered to incarcerated people and their families 'email' would be an insult to email."

That's what it can be like to send an electronic message to a friend or loved one in jail or prison. For-profit companies like Corrlinks and JPay have already capitalized on the opportunity to offer painfully expensive "email" services to people incarcerated in some federal and state prisons. And prison phone companies, which have gouged prisoners and their families so deeply that federal regulators stepped in and capped rates for phone calls, are now offering their own services billed as "email for prisoners."

But prison watchdogs say these services are not like email at all.

"Calling the electronic messaging offered to incarcerated people and their families 'email' would be an insult to email," said Stephen Raher, author of a recent report on electronic messaging services for Prison Policy Initiative.

New technologies for communicating with prisoners ...