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Articles by Steve Horn

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 ...

Private Prison Firms Use Revolving Door Lobbying, Generous Campaign Donations

by Steve Horn

It’s an even-numbered year, which makes sense because, as is the norm, what’s going on in our nation’s capital is anything but odd. That is, big money once again is flowing into Congressional campaign coffers from corporate interests, aiming to influence the 2018 midterm elections. And as usual, well-compensated federal lobbying continues apace. Of course that happens in the odd-numbered years too, perhaps even more so because federal lawmakers are not as busy on the campaign trail.

A review and analysis of federal lobbying disclosure records by Prison Legal News revealed that private prison companies GEO Group, CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and ​Management & Training Corporation (MTC) spent at least $812,500 to lobby federal officials during the first quarter of 2018. And they’ve hired a cast of lobbyists who have passed through the government-industry revolving door – many of them former senior-level congressional staffers, White House staffers, members of Congress and officials with close ties to President Donald Trump – to get the job done.

Private prison firms have also showered Congressional candidates with campaign donations in the run-up to the November midterm elections, giving more than $360,000 thus far through their political ...

BOP Director Resigns in Protest of Prison Reform Bill Clash

by Steve Horn

Mark Inch, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, resigned on May 18, 2018. At first it was unclear why he stepped down, but The New York Times has since reported that sources told the paper Inch resigned in protest of the role played by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions with respect to proposed federal legislation called the First Step Act.

The First Step Act (H.R. 5682) is currently under consideration by the U.S. Senate after it passed in the House in a 360-59 bipartisan vote on May 22, 2018. It is seen as a small but not insignificant effort at federal prison reform by its proponents, including Jared Kushner, a senior White House adviser and the son-in-law of President Donald Trump. Trump, too, has come out in support of the legislation, though many prisoner advocacy groups have objected to the bill due to several controversial provisions and because it does not go far enough.

Sessions, a “tough on crime” and “law and order” Republican dating back to his days as the state Attorney General for Alabama, also reportedly opposes the legislation. As the overseer of the Bureau of Prisons, an agency of the ...

The Prison Phone Industry Has Quietly Become Even More of a Duopoly

by Steve Horn

In little-noticed regulatory filings in New York, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio and Arizona in May 2018, telecom company Securus Technologies solidified its grip over the prison and jail phone service industry by announcing its acquisition of one of its competitors, ICSolutions, also known as ICS. First reported by, the purchase further consolidates the duopoly of the prison telecom market, which is largely split between Securus and Global Tel*Link (GTL).

GTL and Securus currently own over 70 percent of the prison and jail phone industry, according to data crunched by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), a criminal justice research and advocacy organization. The regulatory filings – joint petitions by Securus and ICSolutions regarding the acquisition – also included the private equity firm TKC Holdings, the company that owned ICSolutions. TKC Holdings also owns Trinity Services Group and Keefe Group, which provide food and commissary services to prisons and jails.

“Securus will acquire all the issued and outstanding membership interests of ICS,” the filings stated. “As a result, ICS will become a wholly owned, direct subsidiary of Securus. Petitioners intend to consummate the Transaction as promptly as possible after the necessary federal and state regulatory ...

Lawsuits Filed, Renewed Push to Block Cell Phones After Deadly South Carolina Prison Riot

by Steve Horn

In the two months following an April 15, 2018 riot at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, South Carolina that left seven prisoners dead and at least 22 injured, the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) has renewed its push to get the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to approve jamming contraband cell phones in prisons and jails. Additionally, several prisoners who were wounded during the riot have filed lawsuits alleging that staff at the facility failed to protect them from foreseeable violence.

The incident at Lee Correctional was the deadliest prison uprising in the U.S. in a quarter century. [See: PLN, May 2018, p.12]. Bryan P. Stirling, director of the South Carolina DOC, has maintained that the incident was caused and orchestrated by prisoners over contraband cell phones – a position shared by Governor Henry McMaster.

But others say corrupt prison guards who sold cell phones to prisoners for upwards of $1,500 each are to blame. In a lawsuit filed against the South Carolina DOC in June 2018, Javon Rivers, who was incarcerated at Lee at the time of the disturbance, claims that “guards were allowed to assist inmates with illegal activities in exchange for ...


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