HELP US END MASS INCARCERATION The Prison Policy Initiative uses research, advocacy, and organizing to dismantle mass incarceration. We’ve been in this movement for 20 years, thanks to individual donors like you.

Can you help us sustain this work?

Thank you,
Peter Wagner, Executive Director

One company produces a video explaining to Sheriffs how the status quo is bad for them.

by Peter Wagner, November 25, 2014

NCIC, one of the smaller companies in the prison and jail telephone industry, has made a two minute video that explains how some players in the industry cheat families, the jails, and state regulators by charging the families hidden fees and then quietly pocketing that money.

The perspective of the video is different than a lot of what we post on this blog; it comes from a more-ethical company speaking directly to jails about how the the current system isn’t as good for the jails as they have been led to believe.

For more on hidden fees and other nasty tricks that hurt families without bringing in a dime for the facilities (like Text-To-Collect and other “single-call” programs) see our 2013 report Please Deposit All of Your Money: Kickbacks, Rates and Hidden Fees in the Jail Phone Industry.

Join us in telling the FCC to ensure that ALL families can afford to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones

by Leah Sakala, November 21, 2014

If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to weigh in on federal regulation of the prison and jail telephone industry, the time has come.

Today the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a Public Notice in the Federal Register announcing the Commission’s “Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” to make calls home from prisons and jails more fairly priced. For a refresher on what the FCC is proposing to do, check out our play-by-play blog post.

This Federal Register publication kicks off a new FCC public comment period that will run until January 5, 2015*, followed by a reply comment period that will end on January 20, 2015*. You can make your voice heard by submitting a comment to the FCC. We’re working on a series of submissions here at PPI, and hope that you’ll join us in telling the FCC that it’s time to enact comprehensive regulation to ensure that ALL families can afford to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones.

*December Update: The FCC has granted a one-week extension. Comments are now due January 12 and reply comments are due on January 27.

We applaud the University for doing the right thing and retaining a valuable member of the academic community.

by Leah Sakala, November 14, 2014

It’s a good day for the University of Illinois: the University will continue to benefit from our colleague James Kilgore’s accomplished scholarship and acclaimed teaching.

The university had originally decided not to renew Mr. Kilgore’s contract after the local newspaper published a series of attack pieces about his decades-old criminal record from the 1970s. The University of Illinois was fully aware of Mr. Kilgore’s history during the hiring process, and Mr. Kilgore received overwhelmingly positive performance reviews throughout the years that he has been on faculty.

The university’s decision sparked a groundswell of support for Mr. Kilgore, both from the University of Illinois faculty, staff, and students, and from the national community of scholars and advocates who have benefited from his work. We submitted a letter back in May urging the university Chancellor to not allow journalistic fear-mongering to lead the university to dismiss an accomplished faculty member.

Today, the University of Illinois Trustees announced that they would follow a special committee’s recommendation to keep Mr. Kilgore on staff. We applaud the University for doing the right thing and retaining a valuable member of the academic community.

Musician Alicia Keys calls for movement-building and uses PPI data

by Bernadette Rabuy, November 12, 2014

Yesterday, musician Alicia Keys wrote a piece for The Guardian describing the motivation behind her activism and calling musicians to use their platforms for true movement-building. Describing how motherhood has fueled her awareness of social injustices, Keys writes, “A woman becomes a lioness when she sees her unborn child’s future juxtaposed with the horrors of the world.” Recently, Keys went out in the streets to protest outside the Nigerian consulate in New York for the six-month anniversary of Boko Haram’s abduction of Nigerian girls. We were also excited to see Keys bring attention to racial disparities in the criminal justice system as an issue she cares about. She even used our data! We hope that other musicians will join Alicia Keys and move beyond social justice tweets to getting into the thick of the movement.

Today, in a partial reversal, the Dallas County Commissioners Court approved a new contract with jail telephone giant Securus.

by Peter Wagner, November 11, 2014

Today, in a partial reversal, the Dallas County Commissioners Court approved a new contract with jail telephone giant Securus.

In September, after hours of eloquent and unanimous testimony, the County’s legislative body rejected a proposed contract that would have explicitly banned in-person visits at the jail and replaced them with expensive computer visitation. The County voted to reopen the bidding to the previous finalists based on new criteria that would prioritize family communication. The County then discovered — so it says — that this step was prohibited by Texas law, so negotiations with Securus ensued to make changes to their previous proposal.

The new contract drops the mandatory ban on in-person visitation, but maintains a troubling requirement that Securus, in addition to the installation of video visitation machines for incarcerated people to use, builds an on-site video visitation center at a cost of more than $200,000 to be paid for by the families. This is troubling because the only purpose for such machines would be to replace the current system of through-the-glass visitation that the county and its sheriff claim they intend to keep.

County Judge Clay Jenkins, the county’s top elected official, led a strong resistance, calling for more time for public debate and offering a compromise proposal endorsed by Texas CURE, SumOfUs and the Prison Policy Initiative that would have barred the construction of the on-site video visitation center, phased-out the commissions on telephone calls after this year, lowered Securus’s video visitation charge and their deposit fee, and required the contract to automatically include within 30 days any new consumer protections imposed by the Federal Communications Commission.

Unfortunately, Judge Jenkins was unsuccessful at both stopping the contract and winning permission to allow all of the assembled Dallas residents to speak. (Two of the Commissioners voted against extending the time, with one claiming that the issue had received more attention than any other. Judge Jenkins responded that while that was true, unlike other controversial issues, the public and the media were speaking with one voice in opposition to this contract.) Judge Jenkins voted against the contract, but all four of the other commissioners voted to approve the contract today.

However, there were at least four smaller victories today:

  • The county forced Securus to offer a per-minute rate rather than a fixed price for each phone call. While the per-call price can sometimes be cheaper for very long calls, in actual use, this pricing structure is more expensive and gives the vendor a financial incentive to “accidentally” drop calls and require expensive reconnection.
  • The contract does not ban in-person visits, and the current elected officials are all on record in opposition to banning in-person visits. (We’ll need to carefully monitor the situation to ensure that the county doesn’t directly change course or find more subtle ways to discourage through-the-glass visitation.)
  • Judge Jenkins’s fair-minded compromise and the underlying principle on “the gross unfairness of imposing hefty fees on those least able to afford them: the poor who dominate the inmate population” was endorsed by the Dallas Morning News.
  • From all of the attention this issue received from Texas public, the media and nationally, it’s clear that almost this entire country — basically everyone who doesn’t have a financial stake in the alternative — thinks that maintaining direct communication between incarcerated people and their loved ones is important. Now that that has been established, it will be much harder for the industry to win further victories elsewhere.

Infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio replaces in-person visits with video visitation

by Bernadette Rabuy, November 10, 2014

Video visitation at Maricopa County, AZ jails has seemed fishy from the beginning. At first, Sheriff Joe Arpaio cut back visitation last December, just in time for the holiday season. The sheriff’s spokeswoman told the Phoenix New Times that the cut from three 30-minute visits per week to one 30-minute visit per week was necessary in order to “update/improve MCSO’s video visitation program.” What she didn’t mention was that, one week later, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office would announce its plan to get rid of the remaining face-to-face visits in Maricopa that still existed in half of Maricopa’s six jails.

As of last Monday, Sheriff Joe has completely phased out in-person visits in all Maricopa jails. Families and friends now have two options: travel to the jail and visit their incarcerated loved one via a video screen or schedule a remote visit (using a personal computer) for a fee. The confusion doesn’t stop there. While Securus, the provider of video visitation services in Maricopa, is currently offering promotional pricing for remote video visits at 25 cents a minute, this price will only last until the end of the year. So by January, those visits are going to cost 65 cents a minute.

Stay Informed

Get the latest updates:

Tweet this page Donate Now hiring:
Digital Communications Strategist