by Aleks Kajstura, July 31, 2017

In a continued effort to gain FCC approval of a sale to Gores, Securus is now complaining that advocates are using Securus’ published phone rates to show… well, Securus’ phone rates.

That put the Wright Petitioners in the rather awkward position of having to explain that they were doing exactly as Securus requested when it challenged everyone to look at the facts. Securus claimed that the average rate is about $0.18 per minute. To test out their claim, the Petitioners looked at the cost of calls to the home court of the Detroit Pistons, who are owned by Gores, the man interested in buying Securus. Here are the findings they reported to the FCC:

The data… was pulled directly from Securus’ rate calculator, reflects that no inmate in Michigan would be able to call the Palace of Auburn Hills for $.184 per minute, under any Securus calling plan. The least expensive call would be from the Wayne County facilities, and that rate is $0.50 per minute.

Thus, while Securus should be commended for urging the public to “look at the data – the data does not lie”, it is clear that Securus has presented data to the Commission in connection with the proposed transaction that is demonstrably false.… [I]t is inconceivable that every single correctional facility in the State of Michigan – with Securus serving more than 70 – is simply an outlier in comparison to Securus’ claimed average rate of $0.184 per minute.

And Securus’ pricing anomalies don’t stop at phone calls. Securus also claimed to charge “only $.24 per minute” for video visitation. But once again:

Securus charges far more than $.24 per minute for its video visitation services in a vast majority of its correctional facilities where it charges a fee, with the average rate for remote family members being $.35 per minute. Further… when Securus charges a fee for attorneys to have remote access to their clients, the vast majority of those rates are above $.24 as well, with the average per minute rate being $.38.


by Lucius Couloute, July 24, 2017

Last week Senator Tammy Duckworth introduced the Video Visitation and Inmate Calling in Prisons Act of 2017. This piece of legislation is an important step in the fight against exploitation in prisons and jails, and we encourage lawmakers, criminal justice professionals, and the general public to support its passing.

Although purportedly designed to help people communicate with incarcerated loved ones, video calling technology has typically been used in correctional facilities to replace – not supplement – in-person visits. In fact, 74% of jails banned in-person visits when they implemented video visitation, preventing incarcerated people from maintaining important ties with their loved ones.

The Video Visitation and Inmate Calling in Prisons Act of 2017 would require the FCC to regulate the use of video visitation and inmate calling services in correctional facilities (which it has moved away from under the new Chairman); protecting incarcerated people from the elimination of in-person visits, the high costs of calling services, and substandard video calling technologies.

Earlier this year, the Prison Policy Initiative, along with a coalition of concerned organizations, came together to support a previous version of this bill. With the number of facilities switching to video-only visits growing quickly, regulating the exploitive video visitation industry has become an urgent concern.

For incarcerated people who rely upon the support of loved ones, and for the millions of children who need to connect with their parents behind bars, it is crucial that we continue to support common-sense legislation like the Video Visitation and Inmate Calling in Prisons Act of 2017.


by Elliot Oberholtzer, July 18, 2017

A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) sheds light on the treatment of disabled people in our society. This report, which compiles nationally representative data from 2011-2015 based on the National Crime Victimization Survey, shows that disabled people experience violent victimization at over twice the rate of people without disabilities. (On average 32 per 1,000 disabled people experience violent victimization annually, compared to 13 per 1,000 non-disabled people.)

Key findings include:

  • Disabled people experience significantly higher rates of rape/sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault than non-disabled people.
  • Disabled youth ages 12-15 are victims of violent crime at over four times the rate of their non-disabled peers: 144 out of every 1,000 disabled youth experiences violent victimization each year.
  • 40% of the violence against disabled people was committed by someone they knew, and 10% of that was by a relative (not including romantic partners). Both of these numbers are significantly higher than for non-disabled people, who are more often victimized by a stranger.
  • 16% of violent crime victims with disabilities believed they were targeted due to their disability. (For more details see the BJS Hate Crime Victimization Report.)

Disabled people, particularly disabled youth, are often in the position of needing to rely on the people around them for support and to accomplish necessary tasks. As this data suggests, the position of power that non-disabled people have over the disabled people around them can lead to victimization and abuse.

The difference between disabled and non-disabled rates of violent victimization may be even more stark than this data suggests, because this data does not include institutionalized disabled people (including those in jails, prisons, residential care facilities, and assisted living facilities). Roughly 95% of people 65 and older in elder care institutions report at least one disability, and people in state and federal prisons are nearly three times as likely to report having a disability, both major populations that this study does not include.

The Human Rights Watch suggests that use of force abuses against disabled people in prisons is “widespread and may be increasing”. Ongoing studies of police violence also suggest that disabled people are a disproportionate percentage of those killed by police. Though this new study is an important addition, the picture of societal violence against disabled people is far from complete.


by Wendy Sawyer and Alex Clark, July 13, 2017

Jeff Sessions has famously parlayed his reputation as a zealous and harshly punitive prosecutor into a powerful political career; but among the elite, is his background really so unusual? And to what extent do political ambitions influence prosecutors’ decisions?

It’s now possible to examine the scale of prosecutors’ influence on American politics and justice, thanks to Fordham University historian Jed Shugerman. On Friday, Shugerman announced a new project exploring the emergence and impact of “prosecutor politicians” in recent U.S. history. He also made his extensive database publicly available, which will be invaluable for those of us looking at the role of prosecutors in shaping our criminal justice system.

As part of his research into politicians who began their careers as prosecutors, Shugerman and a team of research assistants looked into the prosecutorial backgrounds of Supreme Court justices, circuit judges, state attorneys general, governors, and senators from each state since the 1880s. The result is a groundbreaking database of American public officials and their legal and political background, impressive in its historical and geographical scope and detail. (Shugerman is quick to point out that the database is a work in progress, one that he hopes will benefit from crowdsourcing additional documentation and analysis.)

This research offers a new perspective – and critical new data – on the connections between prosecution and politics. In our initial look at the data, we focused on just public officials who have held office in the past ten years, and found examples of Shugerman’s “prosecutor politican” in 38 states. Of those in office at any point between 2007 and 2017, 38% of state attorneys general, 19% of governors, and 10% of U.S. senators had prosecutorial backgrounds.

50 state chart showing which states have had a senator, governor, and/or attorney general with prosecutorial experience in office between 2007 and 2017In at least 38 states, a senator, governor, and/or attorney general holding office in the past 10 years was once a prosecutor. This chart may understate the prevalence of these “prosecutor politicians,” since the source is a work in progress and has no data for some positions in five states as of July 7, 2017, and does not include changes in all offices after January 2017.

According to Shugerman, the “prosecutor politician” has emerged as a political force in recent history, having a detrimental impact on our criminal justice system. Shugerman argues that the prosecutor’s office has become a “stepping stone for higher office… with dramatic consequences in American criminal law and mass incarceration.” This hypothesis dovetails with the work of John Pfaff, who argues that prosecutorial decisions explain much of mass incarceration.

Shugerman’s inspiration for the project was his observation that in recent history, prosecutors with political aspirations appear to have prioritized public opinion and personal gain over justice. Their decisions have, in turn, made justice outcomes more punitive for millions of civilians, and noticeably more lax for police. Shugerman hypothesizes that ambitious politicians are drawn to the prosecutor’s office, where they prosecute more arrests and develop a reputation for being “tough on crime.” Yet while they prosecute many defendants too aggressively, such prosecutors also fail to adequately prosecute police officers who have killed Black men: “Suburban/rural prosecutors generally underperform, and perhaps even sabotage, their prosecutions of police in these cases because of their own political ambitions.”

John Pfaff’s work turned the attention of criminal justice reformers to prosecutors earlier this year; and now Shugerman has offered us a tool to further gauge the scope of the problem. If Shugerman’s theory is correct, and prosecutors are subverting justice out of political ambition and fear of public reproach, changing justice outcomes will require greater scrutiny of prosecutors and their decisions.


by Lucius Couloute, July 11, 2017

On April 6th our Senior Policy Analyst Bernadette Rabuy took part in a panel discussion on overcriminalization and indigent legal care at Georgia State University. Along with other leaders in the field, Bernadette addressed how overcriminalization not only affects incarcerated people and those under community supervision, but their families and communities as well. Check out the video above!


by Stephen Raher, July 6, 2017

Illustration depicting faces behind bars within tablet screens

In 2010, Apple made waves when it introduced the iPad. Over the last seven years, consumers have been busy trying out ever-more-powerful mobile devices; meanwhile, correctional facilities have been quietly experimenting with letting incarcerated people use limited-function electronic tablets inside prisons and jails. Correctional administrators are often resistant to change, but after a few tentative forays, some prison systems are beginning to adopt tablet programs on a larger scale.

A recent Denver Post article reports that the Colorado state prison system has awarded a contract to prison communications giant GTL (formerly Global Tel*Link) for a tablet program that will eventually be deployed in all the state’s prisons.

The Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) is somewhat of an early adopter of emerging communications technology. For several years it has offered electronic messaging, an email-like service that allows people in prison to send and receive messages using a proprietary, fee-based platform operated by a contractor. Colorado DOC’s electronic messaging program isn’t perfect, but its rollout was notable for giving people a new communication option. The tablet program, on the other hand, foreshadows a potential new paradigm in corrections, shifting numerous communications, educational, and recreational functions to a for-profit contractor; and, at the same time, making incarcerated people and their families pay for services, some of which are now commonly funded by the state.

What makes the Colorado/GTL contract especially frustrating is that it could have been an innovative step toward providing incarcerated people with useful technology. Experts who have studied government technology contracting warn that projects often fail because details are not sufficiently thought through. The Colorado DOC seems to have walked down this familiar path by focusing largely on its own financial interest without giving much thought to the user experience or the financial impact on incarcerated people and their families.

Continue reading →

Tweet this page Follow @PrisonPolicy on Twitter Get our newsletter Donate Contact Us Now hiring: Policy Director


Events

Nothing scheduled right now. Invite us to to your city, college or organization.