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Articles by Eric Markowitz

Chain Gang 2.0: If You Can’t Afford This GPS Ankle Bracelet, You Get Thrown In Jail

by Eric Markowitz, International Business Times

On a recent broiling August day, Antonio Green, an out-of-work construction worker, sat in his living room, a folder full of receipts open across his legs. He explained how an electronic monitor, strapped to his left ankle for a period of 275 days beginning last fall, sent him into debt and nearly wrecked his life.

It’s widely known that an increasingly privatized criminal justice system makes money off poor people. But Green found himself in the latest for-profit craze: GPS tracking.

It all started with a traffic violation. Green, a 49-year-old father of five from Lugoff, South Carolina, about 30 miles northeast of Columbia, acknowledged that he shouldn’t have been driving at all. He didn’t have a license. But last October, his mother’s car, a 1994 Chrysler, had broken down at a nearby Taco Bell. So he hitched a ride to go retrieve it for her. 

On his way home while driving his mother’s car, he failed to use his turn signal at an intersection, and a local police officer pulled him over. 

Green was arrested, placed in handcuffs and taken down to the local county jail, where he waited overnight until his ...

Electronic Monitoring Has Become the New Debtors Prison

It all started with a traffic violation. Antonio Green didn’t have a license and admits he shouldn’t have been driving. But when his mother’s 1994 Chrysler Sebring broke down at a Taco Bell near their home in October last year, he decided to drive over to fix it.

When he apparently failed to flash his turn signal at an intersection, a cop pulled him over just after 10:30 p.m. in his hometown of Lugoff, South Carolina, about 30 miles northeast of Columbia. The police officer placed Green in handcuffs and took him to the county jail, where he waited overnight until his mother posted roughly $2,000 in bail. One of the conditions of his release: Green had to wear—and pay for—an electronic monitoring bracelet. An unemployed construction worker who has five kids and lives on a monthly $900 disability check, Green couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Pay for it?” Green says with disbelief. “I never heard of that.”

He heard correctly. In Richland County, South Carolina, any person ordered to wear an ankle monitor as a condition of bail must lease the bracelet from a for-profit company called Offender Management Services. OMS charges the ...

Inside the Shadowy Business of Prison Phone Calls

Inside the Shadowy Business of Prison Phone Calls

An IBTimes investigation into the secretive world of selling phone calls to prisoners and their families.

by Eric Markowitz

Joanne Jones, an occupational therapist from Warwick, Rhode Island, has made an unlikely foe in the past year: Securus Technologies, a billion-dollar prison technology company based in Dallas.

Sitting at her kitchen table one recent afternoon in front of a stack of Securus bills, Jones explained that her 29-year-old son, Nate Jones, had been arrested on an aggravated robbery charge in January 2014. Her son’s life may have taken a negative turn, but Jones tries to keep in touch with him as often as possible.

They speak roughly once a week in a 15-minute phone call, and speak for another 25 minutes on a video chat. Jones says she’d travel to Texas to visit her son in person, but Hays County Jail, where he is locked up, banned visitations in November 2013. That happened shortly after the county jail entered into a contract with Securus.

Since then, all family communication with prisoners at Hays County goes through Securus, which charges Jones about $10 for a phone call and about $8 for a video visit.

In the year and a half that her son has been locked up ...

Poison Prison: Is Toxic Dust Sickening Inmates Locked up in Coal Country?

Poison Prison

Is toxic dust sickening inmates locked up in coal country?

By Eric Markowitz

As the sun set over western Pennsylvania, Marcus Santos, inmate #JL7126, sat alone in a drab prison hospital, his eyes closed, wondering if he was about to die. It was Aug. 26, 2012.

At 5 p.m. that evening, Santos trudged over to medical. He felt his throat closing, cutting off oxygen to his lungs. It scared him. Santos never had asthma or allergies, but ever since he’d arrived at Fayette State Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in LaBelle, Pennsylvania, the heart of coal country, he’d begun experiencing signs that something was seriously wrong.

First, it was a nosebleed. Then, headaches. Within six months, his symptoms included severe welts and swelling all over his body. There were skin rashes and hives covering his armpits, his sides and the back of his neck. His feet, genitals and even his eyeballs had swelled at some point.

When Santos arrived at the prison medical unit that August summer evening, the nurse on duty took his blood pressure. It was 166 over 102, a normal reading. The nurse then took his temperature, which was 98.8 degrees. Also normal. The nurse then ...


 

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