by Paul Wright
PLN has been reporting on the prison phone industry for at least the past 30 years, from its inception to its current stranglehold on most means of human contact between prisoners and the outside world. This month’s cover story by Alan Prendergast reports on the public relations efforts by Securus and now-renamed Global Tel Link to burnish their reputations as corrupt, greedy leeches who profit by exploiting the poorest people in America. Rather than ask why these companies are so exploitative, a better question is: Why do they exist at all?
The United States has around 2 million of the world’s 10 million prisoners, more than any other country. It is also the only country which has an industry totally dedicated to doing nothing more than extracting wealth from prisoners and their families at every level. I have researched what telecommunications services prisoners in other countries have. It should come as no surprise that in places as diverse as Ireland, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, the Netherlands, etc., prisoners use Skype, WhatsApp and similar services to communicate with friends and family at no cost to them or their families. As most of the U.S. and the world moves towards lower cost phone service, only do American prisoners and their families have to pay $15 or $20 for a 20-minute phone call. Government regulators and legislators think this is somehow reasonable.
The efforts by the prison telecoms to make themselves look less sleazy indicate the decades of negative publicity are taking their toll as the firms’ hedge-fund owners want to have it both ways: get obscenely rich on the backs of poor people and at the same time enjoy some level of social approval that being American oligarchs should net them. Normally you get one or the other, not both. The owners and executives of American tobacco companies may be very wealthy, but they do not go around telling anyone how great their product is.
As summer begins, COVID-19 appears to be waning as a serious health risk and most of the conditions-related COVID-19 litigation appears to be winding down. We will continue reporting newsworthy developments, though. I keep expecting to see a steady stream of court rulings addressing damages cases from prisoners and staff who died or were seriously injured due to COVID-19, but those do not seem to be getting filed.
Our latest book, The PLRA Handbook: Law and Practice Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, by John Boston, continues to get rave reviews from the people who have purchased it or received a copy. Anyone filing suit pro se or on behalf of a prisoner plaintiff in federal court will need this book and will benefit immensely from it. We are working on several more books which we plan to have published later this year.
A new project we will be launching is the podcast, State of the Police State, which will report on policing and prisons in the U.S. It will be a weekly online show discussing what is happening in prisons and jails as well as interviewing guests. We will report more details when the project launches.
For readers who win or settle lawsuits around prison or jail conditions, please send us copies of the settlements or verdicts so we can report them in PLN and let others know about these wins. All too often these victories, especially by pro se litigants, are not reported.
As our Nebraska readers may recall, we sued the Nebraska prison system earlier this year for banning books sent from any vendor or publisher besides Edward Hamilton Books. The prison system has settled our lawsuit and Nebraska prisoners can again receive books from the Human Rights Defense Center. We will report the settlement details in an upcoming issue of PLN. If you are a Nebraska prisoner who ordered books from us which were censored under this policy, we will resend them.
If you are a PLN or Criminal Legal News subscriber and your magazines or books purchased from us are censored, please let us know about it. File grievances and send us the responses so we can take appropriate action to ensure our readers can actually get the publications they wish to receive from us.
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