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Articles about Phone Justice

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 ...

Prison Policy Initiative Releases Report on Email Services for Prisoners

The non-profit, Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) has released a comprehensive study on communication options for prisoners, focusing on email services while also citing issues related to phone calls, visitation and postal mail. According to the January 2016 report, a common thread among these communication options is the creative methods that private companies use to monetize the desire of prisoners to stay in touch with their families and loved ones.

The PPI study, while concentrating on the various forms of communication between prisoners and the outside world, reiterates the accepted and documented fact that frequent contact with family members and friends has been shown to reduce recidivism, which makes profiteering on such services all the more perverse.

Following a decade-long examination of the issue, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) clamped down on exorbitant prison and jail phone calls, first in 2013 with an order capping interstate (long distance) rates, then again in October 2015 with caps on all prison and jail phone rates which are scheduled to go into effect this month. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.40]. High phone rates have resulted from “commission” kickbacks that phone service providers pay to corrections agencies, usually based on a percentage of ...

Oklahoma DOC, Sheriffs Challenge FCC’s Prison Phone Reforms

A petition for review has been filed in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the Second Order and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on November 4, 2015, which made sweeping reforms to the prison phone industry. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.40].

The petition, filed by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel and the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, alleges that the Order exceeds the FCC’s statutory authority to prevent unfair practices and ignores evidence of the costs that correctional facilities incur when providing phone services to prisoners. The petitioners have asked the appellate court to set aside and enjoin enforcement of the FCC’s Order.

As previously reported in Prison Legal News, the Order, set to take effect in all state and federal prisons on March 17, 2016 and in all other detention facilities nationwide on June 15, 2016, establishes a rate cap of $0.11/min. for debit and prepaid calls made from state and federal prisons and $0.14-$0.22/min. for debit and prepaid calls from local detention facilities based on their population size. Collect calls will initially be capped at higher amounts ...

From the Editor

One downside of publishing a magazine like Prison Legal News for 26 years is that in some respects we are not covering a one-off or isolated story but rather are reporting an ongoing and developing issue. This month’s cover story about the epic abuse, corruption and brutality in the Los Angeles County jail system is the third or fourth major feature article on that topic that we have published in the past two decades, along with dozens of smaller stories related to individual cases of abuse, neglect and misconduct. Jails are often overlooked in discussions about criminal justice reform, but the Los Angeles County jail, which confines some 22,000 prisoners on any given day, is by comparison larger than the state prison systems of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island, combined.

The poor state of American jails is made readily apparent by cover stories such as this one and similar articles we have run on jail systems in New York City, Sacramento, New Orleans, Dallas and other jurisdictions. The ongoing body counts of prisoners attributable to abuse, medical neglect and cultures of violence and impunity are characterized by their apolitical nature: They continue and intensify regardless ...

Louisiana Jail Phone Consultants Resign Due to Conflicts of Interest

Two consultants hired to analyze the cost of prisoner phone calls charged by Louisiana’s Sheriffs have resigned due to conflict of interest.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) held two hearings in 2012 on the prison phone issue. Much anger was expressed about the exorbitant costs of call from prisoners to their families and loved ones. Protestant and catholic clergy who work with prisoners argued for lower phone rates. Law enforcement offices, who profit from the phone calls, opposed a reduction.

The PSC voted in December 2012 to impose a 25 percent reduction to phone rates starting in 2014 or upon renewal of a contact between prison officials and phone companies. See PLN’s article “Louisiana Public Service Commission Votes to Lower Prison and Jail Phone Rates.” When Eric Skrmetta became chairman, he moved to reopen the issue. In March, he spearheaded a vote to postpone part of the order by six months.

A 4-1 vote in May approved the hiring of Henderson Ridge Consulting Inc., and Allerton & Company LLC to gather information on other jurisdictions and report back. In July, the two companies resigned from the $82,070 contract after a state regulator uncovered a conflict of interest ...

Texas Begins Intercepting and Blocking Cell Phone Calls from Prisons

By Matt Clarke

In April 2013, Texas began intercepting cell phone calls originating in two of its largest prisons. The equipment installed at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont and the McConnell Unit in Beeville is intended to test the concept of detecting, intercepting and preventing the use of cell phones by prisoners and locating the offending cell phones.

The equipment, called a managed access system (MAS), also intercepts emails, text messages and attempts to log on to the Internet. Located in a closet near the warden's office, the heart of the MAS consists of two boxes of electronics, each a little larger than a microwave oven, and two rows of containers about the size and shape of CD cases. It connects to a single similar box in each monitored building. There are also cellular signal antennas, innocuous plastic squares, mounted on the roofs of the buildings.

"It behaves like a cellular tower," said Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) information technology director Mike Bell. "Based on ID numbers, if you're on [the] authorized list, it allows the call to go through."

The system allows all calls to 911 to go through, but the only non-emergency calls allowed are ...

California Officials Reverse Position after Receiving Prison Phone Company Contributions

California Officials Reverse Position after Receiving Prison Phone Company Contributions

by Derek Gilna

Prisoners and members of their families filed a federal class-action lawsuit in November 2015 against officials in Orange County and three other California counties, for charging excessive jail phone rates. According to the complaint, “Tens of thousands of California jail inmates and their families, most of whom are not convicted but facing charges, are held hostage to grossly unfair and excessive phone charges, forcing them to pay these charges in order to maintain contact with their loved ones who are incarcerated.”

Exorbitant phone rates have long been targeted by prisoners’ rights advocates – such as Prison Legal News and its parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center – and after years of intense efforts, in October 2015 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a ruling that severely limits prison and jail phone rates nationwide. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.40]. One of the many complaints made against prison phone companies is their practice of paying large amounts of money to government agencies and officials, in the form of “commission” kickbacks and campaign donations, respectively.

That was the case in Orange County, where county officials received contributions from the telephone ...