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Articles by Steve Horn

Washington State: Jail Phone Rates Increase as Video Replaces In-Person Visits

by Steve Horn and Iris Wagner

A comprehensive set of public records obtained by Prison Legal News from the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) and most of the state’s county jails indicates that the average cost of local and in-state phone calls made by Washington prisoners has steadily increased in recent years.

The records also demonstrate an ongoing shift toward video-based calling in county jails, which in some cases has resulted in the elimination of in-person, face-to-face visits. PLN uses the term “video calling” because “video visits” implies people are actually visiting each other rather than seeing their images on a screen. The records procured by PLN further indicate that some of the money generated from phone and video calling revenue at county jails, which is placed in Inmate Welfare Funds, is used to pay the salaries and benefits of jail employees instead of benefiting prisoners.

These developments have occurred despite the state’s proclaimed desire to lower phone rates for prisoners and, ironically, are partly due to a cap on interstate (long distance) prison and jail phone rates imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Using Washington’s Public Records Act, PLN obtained and reviewed telecom contracts for the Washington Department ...

Florida ICE Detention Center Restricts Detainees’ Observance of Ramadan

by Steve Horn

In the midst of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for those of the Islamic faith, the Glades County Detention Center in Florida implemented a policy that banned some Muslim prisoners from participating in the religious observance.

One of the most fundamental parts of Ramadan is fasting from sunrise to sunset, which Glades County did not allow some immigrant detainees to do during the month-long period from May 15 to June 14, 2018. It was a story first reported by The Intercept, an investigative news outlet. The Detention Center also doubles as a jail for the county.

The Muslim detainees came by way of Somalia, seeking asylum in Senegal and – for a yet to be explained reason – somehow ended up in the United States. A war-torn nation, Somalia has been mired in civil conflict for decades and the detainees were reportedly brought to the U.S. via what was described as a modern-day “slave ship,” shackled on an airplane chartered by the Air Operations division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The United States has actively intervened in Somalia, with covert special operations troops on the ground running a secret Central Intelligence interrogation ...

Landmark Stanford Prison Experiment Criticized as a Sham

by Steve Horn

It’s a study widely taught in high school and college psychology textbooks as a prime example of how, as Lord Acton put it, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s also a study whose findings may very well have been falsely represented.

The study – the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment carried out by Prof. Philip Zimbardo – had already been called into question over the years, yet maintained legitimacy in mainstream psychology as a landmark piece of research. Zimbardo’s study revolved around a mock prison created at Stanford University, with 24 students randomly assigned the roles of “guards” or “prisoners.” The purpose was to observe the psychological effects on the participants; expected to last two weeks, the experiment ended after just six days due to the apparent trauma that some of the students experienced.

The conclusion, both at the time the study was conducted and as it was subsequently taught for decades, was that the subjects of the mock prison experiment quickly embraced their assigned roles, with the “guards” becoming authoritarian and sadistic, and the “prisoners” accepting the abusive authority of the guards and experiencing psychological trauma. The study was funded by the ...

HRDC Files Censorship Suit Against New Mexico Jail; Court Orders Dismissal Based on Mootness

by Steve Horn

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, filed a federal lawsuit on April 16, 2018 against the San Miguel County Detention Center in Las Vegas, New Mexico for censoring PLN publications in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Beginning in February 2016, according to the complaint, the jail began rejecting PLN’s monthly publication and other materials sent to prisoners. In total, 39 pieces of mail sent to the San Miguel County Detention Center were returned to HRDC, including 16 issues of PLN and 19 softcover books.

HRDC argued that, under the First Amendment, such censorship constituted a violation of its right to free speech. It was also a violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment because the jail provided no notice to HRDC before returning the publications with labels saying “Refused.”

The complaint sought damages for claims that included “the suppression of HRDC’s speech; the impediment of HRDC’s ability to disseminate its political message; frustration of HRDC’s nonprofit organizational mission; the loss of potential subscribers and customers; and the inability to recruit new subscribers and supporters, among other damages.”

HRDC requested a jury trial on its claims against the ...

Formerly Incarcerated Chef Plans to Revolutionize Ramen

by Steve Horn

When Ron Freeman was released from prison in 1998, he returned to doing the two things he enjoyed the most: cooking and eating. He decided, after being incarcerated for nearly three years for drug possession at the Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California, to put those passions to use and open a food cart in the Watts area of Los Angeles.

Starting with hot dogs and other popular street foods, he later founded a new business focused on the production of ramen instant noodles. Freeman learned from his time behind bars that ramen is one of the most popular items purchased from prison and jail commissaries.

“Ramen is a lifesaver,” he said in an interview with Prison Legal News. “My time in there would’ve been so much harder if I ... couldn’t eat the ramen.”

High Sodium Content

Ramen noodles have long had a reputation as a cheap, albeit fairly unhealthy, food for people without many financial resources. Freeman – who now lives in Victorville, California – has produced several new varieties with 40 percent less sodium than other brands.

Competitor noodle companies, mainly Maruchan and Nissin, currently sell the majority of ramen in institutional ...

With 27 Percent Unemployment, Jobs Crisis Hits Ex-prisoners the Hardest

by Steve Horn

 A new study published by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) – the first of its kind – reports that unemployment in the U.S. has hit former prisoners the hardest.

Titled “Out of Prison & Out of Work,” the report, released in July 2018, crunched survey data to show that 27 percent of an estimated five million ex-offenders nationwide are unemployed – or around 1,350,000 people. That compares to an overall national unemployment rate of around four percent.

The Prison Policy Initiative obtained its data from the National Former Prisoner Survey, conducted in 2008 under the auspices of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. That data, not available online, is stored in a warehouse at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

To put the ex-prisoner unemployment rate in context, it is “higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression,” the PPI report explains. And it’s not a matter of being voluntarily unemployed or laziness, as critics often claim of those who lack a job.

“Our estimate of the unemployment rate establishes that formerly incarcerated people want to work, but face structural barriers to ...

Private Prison Operator Emerald Corrections Out of Business

by Steve Horn

Louisiana-based Emerald Correctional Management, also known as Emerald Corrections, was once among the major movers and shakers in the private prison industry. Today it’s a figment of the past.

Emerald was notorious for atrocious conditions in its detention facilities, as documented in a recent investigative piece co-published by Newsweek and the California-based publication Capital and Main. Incidents at the company’s prisons and jails included the medical-related deaths of immigrant detainees Igor Zyazin at the San Luis Regional Detention Facility in Arizona and Olubunmi Joshua at the Rolling Plains Detention Center in Texas; the “2016 suicide of a 77-year-old county inmate, Kennie Moore, who hanged himself using his boxer shorts as a noose” at Rolling Plains; and a lawsuit filed by Emerald employees who were “forced to work off the clock and weren’t paid for overtime.” The suit was settled out of court.

In 2016, as one of Emerald’s last acts during the two decades it was in business, the company opened the $60 million Prairieland Detention Center. Located in Alvarado, Texas, the 700-bed facility houses detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), though technically the five-year contract is with the City of Alvarado. The center was ...

New CNN Film, “American Jail,” Shows How the Poor Get – and Stay – Incarcerated

by Steve Horn

On July 1, 2018, the film “American Jail” made its premiere screening before a cable television audience on CNN.

Given how seldom criminal justice-related issues – let alone the carceral system – are given serious discussion on the network, which bills itself as the “worldwide leader in news,” getting over an hour and a half devoted to that topic on CNN was quite the triumph for film director Roger Ross Williams. Yet despite airing on the corporate-owned airwaves, “American Jail” provides an unvarnished and uncompromising look at the U.S. penal system rivaling anything done by alternative media voices. Indeed, the promotional blurb published online unflinchingly details the fact that the United States has more people behind bars than any other country on the planet.

Featuring numerous interview segments with Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes Prison Legal News, at its core the show is an intensely personal one for Williams, in which he goes back to his hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania and asks, “What happened to my old friends from childhood?”

As it turns out, many of Williams’ friends have been arrested and imprisoned. One of them, his ...

JPay Vulnerability Exploited by Idaho Prisoners for $225,000 in Credits

by Steve Horn

In the realm of prisons and jails, many companies have positioned themselves to profit from mass incarceration.

Few have done so in the area of prisoner communications with as much vigor as JPay, whose business model centers around charging prisoners fees to communicate with the outside world via phone calls, video calling and e-messaging. The company also has a substantial share of the prison money transfer market.

But JPay, which has myriad contracts with jails and state prison systems, has come under scrutiny over a vulnerability in its media content ordering system that occurred in June and July 2018 at several facilities run by the Idaho Department of Correction.

Prison Legal News obtained documents via a public records request concerning the incident, which indicate that a prisoner tipped off state officials. Though his name was redacted, one document shows the prisoner contacted prison staff through a confidential informant line, explaining how the JPay vulnerability was being exploited by other prisoners.

The informant had originally reached out to JPay on June 28 via the company’s internal support system, letting them know prisoners were using a “glitch” to obtain hundreds of dollars worth of credits to purchase music, games ...

HRDC Receives $25,000 Judgment in North Carolina Jail Censorship Case

by Steve Horn

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News, obtained a civil judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in a lawsuit filed against the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, after accepting an offer of judgment from ...


 

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