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Articles about Phone Justice

Family Connections Bill Signed into Law in Illinois

Illinois Governor Bruce V. Rauner signed HB 6200, the Family Connections Bill, into law on August 22, 2016. Under the provisions of that legislation, domestic prison phone rates within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and Department of Juvenile Justice will be capped at $0.07/min. while the rate for international calls will be capped at $0.23/min., effective January 1, 2018. Advocates argued that the bill, which received bipartisan support, will reduce recidivism and help prisoners reintegrate into their communities after being released by making it more affordable for them to stay in touch with their families while incarcerated.

“We need to approach our criminal justice system with more compassion,” Governor Rauner stated. “I want those who did something wrong to face punishment, but we must make sure that the punishment fits the crime. We need to explore new avenues so that we’re balancing punishment with rehabilitation and not needlessly tearing families and lives apart.”

An order issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in October 2015, which went into effect at IDOC facilities in March 2016, eliminated all but three ancillary fees that can be charged for inmate calling services (ICS). As a result ...

Massachusetts Prisoners Involved in Reform Efforts Transferred, Held in Solitary

Three Massachusetts state prisoners have been placed in segregation in apparent retaliation for their prison reform activism.

Timothy Muise, Shawn Fisher and Steven James, all incarcerated at the medium-security prison MCI Shirley, were taken from their cells late at night on March 23, 2016 and transferred to three different Massachusetts facilities, where they were all put in solitary confinement. While in solitary they had restricted access to phone calls and visits.

What do they have in common? They are all prison reform and prisoners’ rights advocates.

Muise, 52, and Fisher, 44, had recently organized meetings at MCI Shirley with members of the Legislative Harm Reduction Caucus, a coalition of 70 state lawmakers that works to address the root causes of incarceration. Massachusetts Rep. Benjamin Swan, a leading member of the Caucus, described it as “A group of progressive legislators who see the need for some reform in the criminal justice system and corrections as well.”

Meetings sanctioned by MCI Shirley officials and attended by correctional staff were held at the prison in October 2015 and February 2016. Muise and Fisher organized the meetings and attended. While James, 39, did not attend, he has been a prominent advocate for prison ...

The Fight for Comprehensive Prison Phone Reform Continues

As previously reported in PLN, the prison telecom industry has been successful so far in delaying implementation of the rate caps ordered by the FCC in October 2015. [See: PLN, May 2016, p.36; Dec. 2015, p.40]. And while the limits on ancillary fees were implemented in prisons in March 2016 and jails in June 2016, intrastate rate caps remain stayed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals after Global Tel*Link, Securus and corrections officials filed suit challenging the FCC’s order. Some prison phone providers have even increased intrastate rates, which are currently unregulated, to offset lost revenue from fees and interstate calls.

Faced with the reality of long delays while the previously-ordered rate caps work their way through the court system, the FCC made a strategic but difficult decision to increase the caps to cover phone-related costs allegedly incurred by correctional agencies. The goal of the rate cap increase was to moot claims in the pending lawsuit related to cost recovery by prison and jail officials.

Under the new rate caps, all debit/prepaid calls from federal and state prisons will be capped at $0.13/min. Debit/prepaid calls from jails with more than 1 ...

Arkansas Federal Court Holds No First Amendment Right to Lower Prison Phone Rates

On January 21, 2011, an Arkansas federal court held that state prisoners in Arkansas had no First Amendment right to a specific telephone rate.

Arkansas state prisoners Winston Holloway and Joseph Breault filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court alleging excessive kickbacks resulting in high rates for prisoners using telephones in the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) infringed upon their First Amendment rights. The magistrate judge assigned to the case issued a report recommending that a First Amendment violation be found and that the telephone service provider, Global Tel*Link (GLT), be enjoined from paying any "commission" to the ADC. The district judge rejected that part of the report and dismissed the suit with prejudice.

The ADC established telephone services for prisoners in 2006 by contracting with GTL. Under the contract, GTL paid for all costs of equipment, installation and service and giving the ADC a 45% "commission" on the fees it charges for prisoner-initiated calls. Those rates include a $3.00 ($3.95 interstate) surcharge per call and an additional $0.12 ($0.45 interstate) per minute. The calls can be collect or prepaid; however, persons prepaying for calls are ...

Court Certifies Class-Action in Lawsuit Over Washington State Prison Phones

On February 23, 2012, a Washington State court certified as a class action a challenge to the failure of the prisoner telephone service in some Washington State prisons to provide rate information.

Sandy Judd, Tara Herivel and Columbia Legal Services are class representatives for persons who received phone calls from prisoners at certain Washington State prisons between June 20, 1996 and December 31, 2000, a period during which rate information that was mandated by the Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission (WUTC) was not provided. They filed suit in state court alleging violations of the Consumer Protection Act, RCW ch. 19.86 and seeking class certification.

In 1988, the Washington legislature determined that provision of telephone services without rate disclosure was a deceptive trade practice. In 1991, the WUTC promulgated a rule requiring telecommunications companies to make rate disclosures to consumers, former WAC 480-120-141(5)(a)(iv). In 1999, it revised the rule to make it more specific, former WAC 480-120-141(2)(b).

AT&T received the contract to provide telephone services in the Washington State prison system in 1992. It subcontracted to several local exchange carriers (LECs) to provide local and IntraLATA services at specific prisons. T-Netix later took over from ...

Texas Legislature Authorizes Doubling of Prisoners' Monthly Phone Minutes

In 2007, when Texas became the last state in the union to allow prisoner phone calls, the limit on phone usage was 120 minutes a month. In 2009, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ) responded to requests by prisoners' families and doubled the monthly phone minute allotment to 240. Now, the Texas Legislature has passed a bill authorizing another doubling to 480 minutes a month.

No, the legislature has not gotten soft on prisoners. The reason for re-doubling the monthly phone minutes are purely cynical. The legislature is faced with a budget deficit and would like to plug the hole in the budget with money made by charging high phone rates to prisoners and their families. They currently pay 23¢ per minute for in-state phone calls and 43¢ per minute to call out of state.

Of course, the state gets a hefty kickback as well. So hefty that raising the limit to 240 minutes was projected to generate $7.5 million for the state to put into the Compensation to Victims of Crime fund. Instead, only $5 million was generated. This led Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, to introduce the bill authorizing another doubling of the phone minutes in hopes ...

Los Angeles Sheriff's Office Settles Visitor Beating Case for $1 Million

Los Angeles County Jail deputies have a reputation for brutal treatment of prisoners, and have paid out millions of dollars in settlements as a result. However, even a man visiting his brother Robert at Men's Central Jail and his wife were not exempt from police brutality. As a result of an altercation at that facility in February of 2011, Gabriel Carrillo received a $1.2 million settlement for his injuries at the hands of jail deputies. [See: PLN, March 2016, p.1].

Carrillo and his wife admitted that they both accidentally brought their cell phones in the jail's booking area, but when his wife dropped her phone, she was harassed and although he complied with jail personnel instructions to stand up, he was attacked, handcuffed, and then beaten so severely that he suffered serious bruising and temporary facial paralysis. He then lost consciousness, and when he came to, was pepper sprayed while still handcuffed. Carrillo alleged that after his beating, he was transported to the jail ward at county hospital, where he was treated for his injuries, and videotaped. He was also charged in a criminal complaint with resisting arrest even though his hands were cuffed behind his ...

Canada: Phone Access Vital for Incarcerated Mothers

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan hosted an event on May 11, 2016 that coincided with Mother’s Day to raise awareness about women impacted by the criminal justice system and to highlight the fact that most incarcerated women are mothers and were formerly the sole source of income for their families.

The Elizabeth Fry Society and other organizations challenged citizens to gain a clearer understanding of what actually happens to families when women are incarcerated. The children of female prisoners typically experience trauma from their parent’s imprisonment that results in a wide range of harmful effects. Further, Saskatchewan has a single prison for women, which oftentimes means those individuals are housed geographically far away from their loved ones. Indigenous families are disproportionately affected by the significant barriers to prison visits.

The province’s policies allow for “reasonable contact” between prisoners and their families and friends, but because of the geographic limitations of incarcerated women, often times the only way for that to occur is through phone calls. The government contracts with a Texas-based private prison phone provider that charges high fees to offset the cost of administering the program. Local calls cost around $1.50 and long distance calls are $7 ...

Texas Guards and Prisoners Rarely Prosecuted for Contraband Cellphones

According to an investigation conducted by the Texas Tribune, guards and prisoners are rarely prosecuted for the contraband cell phones found within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The investigation discovered that only 5% of the cellphone smuggling cases investigated by the TDCJ's Office of Inspector General from 2009 through 2013 resulted in a criminal sentence. During that time, the office examined 3,687 cellphones, but sought no charges for 2,142 of them and secured sentences in a mere 190 cases.

TDCJ officials say that it is hard to link a cellphone to a specific person and that prosecuting prison cell phone cases often falls to cash-strapped rural counties where the district attorneys may be more interested in spending their limited resources on local law enforcement instead of using them to tack an additional sentence on to a prisoner who is already incarcerated. Therefore, the prosecutors may be satisfied if the TDCJ simply punishes the prisoners using administrative disciplinary penalties.

The allure for guards to smuggle cellphones is money. Entry-level guards receive an annual salary of around $29,000, but a single cell phone can be sold for as much as $3,000.

"The temptation is there ...

Guard’s Suspension for Dragging Injured Maine Pretrial Detainee Upheld

Louisiana officials are resorting to unconventional tactics to combat the “international” problem of cellphones within its jails and prisons. Prisoner use of the contraband phones has become so widespread that rarely a day goes by that guards fail to find one.             

Several factors drive the proliferation of cellphones in jails and prisons. For prisoners, they are free of security restrictions that record their calls and restrict who they can call. Plus, collect calls to their families and friends come at an exorbitant cost charged by profiteering prison phone companies. For guards, they can earn extra money.

 “That $50 cellphone might sell for $200, so you have a $150 temptation to the correctional officer or visitor who’s coming into the prison,” said Burl Cain, warden of Louisiana State Penitentiary.

 “We find cellphones with inmates almost daily,” he said. “We found one today. We found one over the weekend.”

As PLN has reported, prison and jail officials nationwide are battling this contraband issue. One expert says it’s an issue that reaches beyond U.S. borders. “This is an international issue,” said Tod Burke, criminal justice professor at Virginia’s Radford University. “Every state that has a jail or ...