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Articles about Phone Justice

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 ...

FCC Quashes Company's Blockage of Discounted Prisoner Call Plans

Securus Technologies, Inc.'s petition to block discounted prisoner calling plans, such as the widely-used "Cons Call Home" program, was denied by the Wireline Competition Bureau in a hearing before the Federal Communications Commission. Securus was attempting to utilize correctional rules devised to prevent incarcerated individuals from calling unauthorized numbers to  prevent bypassing their significantly more expensive and monopolistic telephone network sold to correctional institutions in return for a share of the profit.

According to the Commission's findings, "We deny the Petition because we conclude that the precedent cited by Securus does not authorize the call blocking practice described in the Petition. As the Commission has previously found, call blocking is largely antithetical to the fundamental goal of ubiquity and reliability of the telecommunications network. We find that this situation is no exception. This Declaratory Ruling and Order furthers the Commission’s goals of ensuring the integrity and reliability of telecommunications networks."

In reaching its decision in September 2013, the FCC recognized that inmate calling services (ICS) are generally confined to a single provider creating opportunities for abuse and profiteering at the expense of the incarcerated and their families. The temptation of correctional institutions and law-enforcement organizations to profit at the expense of ...

Louisiana Prisoner Phone Charge Scandal Pushed to Closed Door Session

The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) voted to keep the discussion about fines for companies that illegally placed surcharge fees on prisoner telephones behind closed doors.

City Tele Coin serves about 30 parish and municipal jails around Louisiana. In 2006, the PSC refused to allow the company to add surcharge fees for calls made by prisoners on jailhouse phones. Despite that order, City Tele Coin began adding the surcharge fees in 2010.

The PSC found City Tele Coin and Securus Techologies, which provide telephone services for prisoners at 10 Louisiana prisons, were collecting unauthorized surcharge fees upon their captive clientele. That March 2013 findings came only four months after the PSC cut by 25 percent the rates for all prison calls and ordered removal of all surcharges not specifically approved by the PSC.

Each violation for collection of unauthorized fees can result in fines up to $10,000. City Tele Coin offered $5,000 to settle the claims and Securus offered $2,500.

How to handle the matter resulted in a heated debate amongst PSC Commissioners, Eric Skrmetta, PSC’s Chairman, pushed to resolve the matter in a closed executive session that caused a raucous 15-minute exchange that saw Skrmetta and ...

Maryland Court of Appeals: Police Must Have Warrant for "Stingray" Phone Tracking

According to criminal defense attorneys in Baltimore, Maryland, at least 200 individuals are now sitting in prison based upon illegally-obtained cell phone records obtained from the use of "stingray" tracking devices.  The suitcase-sized eavesdropping device mimics a cell-phone tower, recording information from cell phones of suspects.  The Court of Appeals ruled that the conviction obtained by the practice must be set aside.

According to the court,  "This case presents a Fourth Amendment issue of first impression in this State: whether a cell phone-a piece of technology so ubiquitous as to be on the person practically every citizen-may be transformed into a real-time tracking device by the government without a warrant." The court's answer: a emphatic, "no!"

USA Today has been in the forefront in an investigation for the past several months detailing the secret and warrantless use of this eavesdropping device, despite the strenuous efforts of law enforcement and the FBI.  The Maryland decision marks the first decision by an appellate court finding it a Fourth Amendment violation.

In May, 2014, the court said, "the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) used an active cell site simulator, without a warrant, to locate Appellee Kerron Andrews was ...

Not So Securus

by Jordan Smith and Micah Lee, The Intercept

An enormous cache of phone records obtained by The Intercept reveals a major breach of security at Securus Technologies, a leading provider of phone services inside the nation’s prisons and jails. The materials – leaked via SecureDrop by an anonymous hacker who believes that Securus is violating the constitutional rights of prisoners – comprise over 70 million records of phone calls, placed by prisoners to at least 37 states, in addition to links to downloadable recordings of the calls. The calls span a nearly two-and-a-half year period, beginning in December 2011 and ending in the spring of 2014.

Particularly notable within the vast trove of phone records are what appear to be at least 14,000 recorded conversations between prisoners and attorneys, a strong indication that at least some of the recordings are likely confidential and privileged legal communications – calls that never should have been recorded in the first place. The recording of legally protected attorney-client communications – and the storage of those recordings – potentially offends constitutional protections, including the right to effective assistance of counsel and of access to the courts.

“This may be the most massive breach of the attorney-client privilege in modern U.S. history, and that’s ...

Securus Faces Lawsuit Over Recorded Attorney Calls

On May 27, 2016, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Securus Technologies, Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, accusing the company of recording privileged phone calls between prisoners and their attorneys as described in this issue’s cover story.

The suit was filed by former San Diego jail detainees Frank Tiscareno and Juan Romero, who allege Securus recorded calls made to their attorneys – a practice that is prohibited by state statute. The California Invasion of Privacy Act includes protections for communications between prisoners and their lawyers, physicians and members of the clergy. Cal. Penal Code § 636(a).

“But in reality, Securus does eavesdrop on, listen in on, record, and store private and confidential attorney-client phone calls without permission of all parties, and Securus shares access and recordings with law enforcement personnel, including prosecutors, as evidenced by, inter alia, reports by lawyers of production of such recorded calls from prosecutors in discovery,” the complaint states.

Recording attorney-client calls, and potentially sharing them with prosecutors and law enforcement officials, “creates a huge potential for mischief and abuse.” The lawsuit also contends that Securus did not provide adequate notice that calls would be ...

New Jersey Prison Phone Class-action Suit Against Global Tel*Link Continues

A New Jersey federal district court denied a motion to dismiss filed by prison telecom giant Global Tel*Link (GTL) and its subsidiary DSI-ITI in a class-action lawsuit alleging predatory practices in providing phone service to New Jersey state prisoners.

On September 8, 2014, Judge William J. Martini held that although the plaintiffs in the suit also had a pending complaint before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that raised many of the same claims, a stay rather than dismissal was more appropriate. The case is yet another attempt to rein in exorbitant phone rates targeting prisoners and their families.

The seven plaintiffs, including a New Jersey state prisoner and her parents, claimed that GTL and DSI-ITI had engaged in “violations of federal and New Jersey state law arising from ... Defendants’ abuse of their monopoly power over phone calls made from New Jersey by prisoners by charging rates more than 100 times higher than market rates.” The complaint called the companies’ conduct “abusive, discriminatory and unreasonable,” and added the “state of New Jersey benefits financially from the Defendants’ monopoly.” At the time the suit was filed, the New Jersey DOC received a 41% commission kickback from the revenue ...

From the Editor

The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, co-founded by the Human Rights Defense Center, has led the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to curb some of the more egregious abuses of the prison telecom industry. It has also helped focus increased attention from all sources, including the media, the public and those government officials not getting kickbacks from prison phone companies. While it is known that the companies record prison and jail phone calls on behalf of their government collaborators, what was not known is what exactly they did with those phone recordings. As this month’s cover story on the leak of prison phone call data indicates, at least Securus retains all the recordings on their internal servers.

Whether the data leak was facilitated by hackers or a disgruntled employee is unknown. What is known is that eavesdropping on phone calls, including calls made by prisoners to their attorneys, is apparently yet another service that the government has outsourced to private, for-profit companies. It’s unlikely that Securus is alone in these business practices. For years, prisoners and their attorneys alike have been skeptical of claims that their phone calls are not recorded by prisons and jails, and those suspicions have proven to ...