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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Steve Horn

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 ...

PLN Postcard-only Suit Against Knox County, Tennessee Settles for $87,000

by Steve Horn

On April 4, 2018, Prison Legal News settled a lawsuit over unconstitutional mail policies at a jail in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The complaint centered around the censorship of 147 pieces of mail sent to prisoners at the Knox County jail between November 2014 and when the suit was ...

The Results are in: Prison Legal News Reader Survey!

by Steve Horn

Prison Legal News has compiled the results of its last reader survey and this summary will report on the more compelling findings, which we will use to inform editorial decisions in forthcoming issues of the magazine. We extend our gratitude to Heidi Sadri, a student worker employed by PLN, for crunching the numbers and tallying the results of the survey – a lengthy and arduous task.

A total of 11,294 surveys were distributed to 8,777 prisoners and 2,517 non-prisoners. We received 527 responses, for a response rate of 4.67 percent. The majority of people who responded (57 percent) reported they had a high school or GED-level education, while over 30 percent indicated they had a college degree.

The vast majority of respondents were held in state prisons – 84 percent – with around 8.4 percent in federal prisons and 5.5 percent in local jails.

The most compelling findings of the 37-question survey centered around questions about a prospective new monthly magazine which is now being published by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), PLN’s parent organization – Criminal Legal News (CLN), which began publishing in December 2017.

Nearly 84 percent of ...

Major Wage Ratio Gap Between Executives, Employees at Private Prisons

by Steve Horn

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings reviewed by Prison Legal News show a major gap between the pay of private prison employees and the executives of those companies. And, according to a new report by the non-profit group Public Citizen, those numbers may not reflect the whole reality when extremely low wages paid to immigrant detainees are taken into account.

Required to include wage ratio details under Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, SEC filings for private prison firms The GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) reveal their top executives are paid dozens of times more per year than the median pay of the companies’ employees.

With respect to GEO Group, CEO George Zoley made $9.6 million in total compensation in 2017 – a ratio of 271:1 compared to the median pay for rank-and-file workers. For CoreCivic, the ratio between the annual compensation of CEO Damon Hininger, who received a total of $2.37 million last year, and median employee wages was a more reasonable 62:1.

According to survey results published in February 2018 by Equilar, Inc., a firm that provides intelligence solutions and data for boards of ...

Tennessee: New Trial Ordered in Prisoner’s Wrongful Death Case

by Steve Horn

On April 5, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that a lawsuit over the death of 33-year-old Charles “Jason” Toll – a prisoner who died in 2010 after being forcibly removed from his solitary confinement cell at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution (RMSI) in Nashville, Tennessee – should be remanded for another trial.

The Court of Appeals concluded that a February 2011 resignation letter written by William Amonette, an RMSI guard who had participated in the cell extraction involving Toll, should have been disclosed during the discovery process in the suit. Amonette’s letter, first reported by The New York Times in July 2014, centered around his belief that his concerns about the handling of Toll’s cell extraction were brushed aside by upper-level prison brass.

Amonette further wrote in his resignation letter that he felt he did not receive the proper number of training hours needed to carry out cell extractions, and that he was asked to lie on a document saying he had completed the proper training.

“This is falsification of training records,” he wrote. “With the extenuating allegations surrounding proper officer training, I felt it necessary to make you ...


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