The prison phone industry, which provides telecom services for prisons, jails and other detention facilities, has a long and sordid history of exploiting prisoners and their families by charging exorbitant phone rates and fees. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.1; April 2011, p.1]. Over the past decade the industry has steadily consolidated, with two companies supplying the majority of prison phone services: Securus Technologies and Global Tel*Link (GTL).
On April 2, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that a proposed merger between Securus and the nation’s fourth-largest prison telecom, Inmate Calling Solutions, LLC (also known as ICSolutions or ICS), which would have resulted in further consolidation and thus even less competition, had been withdrawn by the firms.
FCC staff had recommended to the agency’s chairman, Ajit Pai, that the merger be denied. Pai wrote in a terse statement that the FCC’s staff “concluded that this deal poses significant competitive concerns and would not be in the public interest.”
The parent organization of Prison Legal News, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which co-founded the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice in 2011 to advocate for reforms in the prison telecom industry – including lower phone ...
by Scott Grammer
Frank Lara was the Assistant Director of the Correctional Programs Division for the federal Bureau of Prisons when, on January 24, 2018, he sent a memo to all Chief Executive Officers of the BOP. The memo required them to “submit eligible inmates ... for transfer consideration to private contract facilities.”
The prisoners to be moved to the private prisons had to be male, non-U.S. citizens with good health and low security classifications, with 90 months or less left on their sentences. More specific criteria were included for prisoners to be sent to one specific prison: the Rivers Correctional Institution in North Carolina, owned and operated by GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest private prison companies.
Shortly before Lara’s memo was issued, the BOP warned facility administrators that there would soon be a 12 to 14 percent reduction in federal prison staffing levels, meaning a projected loss of some 5,000 to 6,000 jobs. But Lara didn’t have to worry about his own job. By August 2018 he had retired from his position and gone to work for GEO Group; he is now the company’s Director of Operations, according to his Linkedin.com profile ...
by Chad Marks
“They don’t care who dies, how they die or what they do to you.”
That’s what former Kansas prisoner Sarah Loretta Cook said about Corizon Health, the state’s prison medical care provider. With expected increases in the Kansas prison population over the next five years, Corizon’s contract with the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) is projected to balloon from $70 million to $83 million annually. But the company’s track record in Kansas has not been stellar.
One prisoner developed a brain fungus resulting in the 27-year-old’s death. As for Cook, she had to have much of her colon removed after she did not receive her prescribed medication for months. She has now filed a lawsuit – one of more than 48 naming Corizon and the Kansas DOC involving medical care.
During fiscal years 2016 and 2017, state officials slapped Corizon with $3.4 million in penalties for failure to maintain its contracted staffing levels. The company was penalized another $2.8 million for the same problem in 2018, along with an additional $534,880 fine for not meeting other performance standards.
Since it was first awarded the DOC contract in 2014, Corizon’s performance has been audited ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) has expanded the use of private contractors in the state’s prison system. With an annual budget of about $2.4 billion, the FDOC is increasingly shifting the burden of those costs to prisoners and their families through privatization.
Revenue from canteen (commissary) sales alone increased $4 million after the FDOC switched to a new vendor, Trinity Services Group. Net revenue payable to the state has reached $35 million a year due to the monopoly nature of the FDOC’s canteen services. Trinity has one of the largest revenue-generating contracts in the state’s prison system.
Critics have claimed on several occasions that the FDOC was guilty of price-gouging. Jackie Azis, a staff attorney for the ACLU, said, “That’s not surprising at all to hear, and that’s something I’ve heard throughout my career.”
For example, a case of 54 Tampax at Walmart costs $5.86, while the same number of Tampax at the Lowell CI women’s prison costs $21.71. At the same Walmart, 12 ramen soups cost $1.94. In FDOC canteens, at $.65 per ramen soup packet, 12 would cost $7.80.
Even within the prison system there ...
by Matt Clarke
On December 5, 2018, an Oregon federal court entered a $10 million judgment against Washington County and Corizon Health, Inc. in a lawsuit over the death of a detainee who was detoxing from heroin.
As she was being booked into the Washington County jail in Hillsboro ...
by Matt Clarke
In February 2019, Texas Prisoner Transportation Services (TPTS) informed its customers that it would cease operations that same month. CEO Ryan Whitten blamed the closure on new insurance rates that meant the company “simply can’t continue to operate.” The announcement came just days after a high-profile escape from a TPTS transport van prompted a manhunt for a double homicide suspect who remained at large for nine hours before being recaptured.
Also in February 2019, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch joined U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker in a letter demanding information from Joel Brasfield, the president of Nashville, Tennessee-based Prisoner Transportation Services, LLC (PTS), the nation’s largest private prisoner transport firm. Booker and Deutch had previously called for investigations into the transport industry, which is largely unregulated.
A July 2016 analysis by The Marshall Project found that private prisoner transportation companies were involved in over 50 crashes, 60 escapes and 19 deaths since 2000. The nonprofit news organization also noted in early 2019 that the status of an inquiry into the industry, announced in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Justice, remains unclear.
The prisoner who escaped from the TPTS van ...
by Matt Clarke
Private prison companies are known for their cynical motives. They lobby and give money to politicians to expand the for-profit prison industry, and have provisions in their contracts that guarantee minimum occupancy levels at many of their facilities – typically ranging from 90 to 100 percent. Such practices are understandable when you consider these companies operate detention centers for the purpose of generating corporate profit.
But CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), recently drove the cynicism meter to new levels. It announced it had created a nonprofit foundation, allegedly to reduce recidivism, then funded it Trump-style by lending the use of its name but having others do the actual funding.
The company’s chief development officer, Tony Grande, announced the creation of a 501(c)(3) group, the CoreCivic Foundation, on January 10, 2019. The firm held a charity golf tournament that raised $531,000 in October 2018; it has held similar events for the past 27 years to raise money for charitable causes. According to CoreCivic, its new foundation will “support former prisoners, victims of crime and abuse, and underserved youth.” It specifically named Men of Valor as an organization that will receive funding ...
by Steve Horn
Bernard Carter was incarcerated at the privately-operated North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan when he alleged a prison nurse coerced him into sexually uncomfortable situations.
In a federal lawsuit, Carter v. GEO Group, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Mich.), Case No. 1:16-cv-00667-RHB-PJG, Carter laid out the facts in his October 2016 hand-written complaint. He wrote that nurse Teresa L. Belohlavy performed numerous sexually coercive acts upon him, to which he had objected. Reporting the incidents up the chain of command through the grievance process, the GEO Group-owned prison’s administration was apathetic. Exhausting his other options, Carter filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
“In about Aug. 2015, [Belohlavy] would make sexual commands to me that made me feel uncomfortable,” Carter stated. “I told her I didn’t want her to speak to me like that and she said she wasn’t going to stop. She would tell me how she could see my penis through my shorts, that she wanted to give me oral sex....”
Carter claimed that things escalated from verbal comments to the physical.
“Then it got to where she would be touching me in ...
by Derek Gilna
GEO Group, the Florida-based private prison behemoth, and Tennessee corporation CoreCivic, are the targets of several lawsuits alleging that “voluntary” work programs at their facilities violate state minimum-wage laws, as well as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and other labor protection statutes. These lawsuits alleged that many of those detained in these facilities are undocumented immigrants.
Washington State alleged that GEO violated its minimum wage statute, which requires pay of at least $11 an hour, and sought recovery of wages owed to people confined by the company on civil charges. Colorado and California also sued GEO for requiring prisoners to work maintenance jobs for $1 a day, whereas the company receives $160 a month for each prisoner it confines.
Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, the parent company of Prison Legal News said, “This is a testament to their own greed. Instead of hiring somebody at minimum wage to do these maintenance tasks and housekeeping jobs, they would rather enslave these prisoners.”
David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, agrees, saying that although the 13th Amendment permits extracting labor at little or no pay from the criminally ...
by David Reutter
Pension funds for teachers are abandoning their investments in private prisons. The divestures follow an appeal by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the nation’s second-largest teacher’s union, for public pension funds to liquidate their holdings in for-profit prison companies and other firms involved in immigrant detention.
The AFT specifically named General Dynamics, GEO Group and CoreCivic as companies to target for divestment. The organization reported that 28 hedge funds own more than $15 billion in stock in the three firms, with General Dynamics accounting for $10 billion. While General Dynamics is a global aerospace and defense company, it also plays a role in overseeing immigrant children who have been separated from their parents.
The AFT’s appeal was aimed at governmental policies that result in the detention of undocumented immigrants and family separation. Those policies existed under the Obama administration, and continued and were strengthened after President Trump took office.
In June 2017, New York City’s pension fund was the first public retirement fund to divest from private prison companies, dumping around $48 million in stock holdings. It cited human rights abuses related to “draconian” immigration policies. [See: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.48].
“You have these ...