Memphis County Gets $1M for Inmate Phone Fees

Under its current contract with Global Tel, Shelby County, Tn., is guaranteed a commission of at least $1 million per year. New county officials oppose the county’s profiting from inmates and their families.

Every day in Memphis, more than 5,000 people, on average, spend their hours locked up in one of four Shelby County facilities. More than half are pretrial detainees, held behind bars before being convicted of any crime. Dozens are children, roughly 300 are women, and the vast majority are men, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Many inmates share one trait. Every day their family members strain to cover the costs that come with having a loved one incarcerated — from commissary food purchases to talking on the phone. Each time a family member deposits money for calls or the commissary, the person is charged a transaction fee of either $3 or $5.95 depending on how the money is deposited.

For the corporations on the other side of the prison communications industry, has transformed over three decades into a nationwide industry that in 2015 was valued at $1.25 billion — a sum built off exorbitant rates charged inmates and their loved ones to connect. In exchange for granting monopoly rights to operate telecommunications inside a jail or prison system, local governments typically take a portion of the revenue collected off each call, in what’s known as a commission fee. Under its current contract with Global Tel, Shelby County is guaranteed a commission of at least $1 million per year.  That’s based on a commission rate of 3.7 cents per minute. If call volume tops 22 million minutes, the county makes an additional 4.5 cents per minute. The Global Tel contract is potentially at a crossroads, with new leadership at the helm of county government. During their campaigns, new County Mayor Lee Harris and Sheriff Floyd Bonner were asked about jail phone rates. Each said they were against the county profiting off inmates and their families.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Pennsylvania County to Pay $4.75M in Inmate Death

Tori Herr was addicted to heroin and had withdrawal symptoms at the time of her death in Lebanon County, Pa. She collapsed outside of her cell, lost consciousness and went into cardiac arrest, dying six days later. She had not received medical attention for several days previously despite severe withdrawal symptoms, her estate’s lawsuit charged.

A $4.75 million deal between a Pennsylvania’s Lebanon County and the estate of an inmate who died while allegedly suffering from heroin withdrawal is one of the largest civil incarceration settlements in the last decade, reports the Lebanon, Pa., Daily News. The county won’t admit wrongdoing in the 2015 death of inmate Tori Herr, but the settlement being paid on behalf of the county to Herr’s estate holds the jail accountable, says the estate’s attorney. Herr was addicted to heroin and had withdrawal symptoms at the time of her death. On March 31, 2015, she collapsed outside of her cell, lost consciousness and went into cardiac arrest. She died six days later. She had not received medical attention for several days previously despite severe withdrawal symptoms, the lawsuit charged.

“It’s certainly one of the largest settlements in at least the last ten years involving the death of a prisoner in civil rights litigation,” said Jonathan Feinberg, an attorney representing Tori Herr’s estate and her mother, Stephanie Moyer. “When there are breakdowns in the way a prison is run, and when those breakdowns cause harm like the unimaginable harm that was caused to Tori Herr, this suit shows that prisons and staff will be held accountable.” Feinberg added that Herr “should not have died in the Lebanon County Correctional Facility. She had a serious condition which could have easily been treated.” No criminal charges were sought.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Seattle Jail Investigates ‘Inadvertent’ Inmate Releases

After a third inmate in three months was accidentally released from jail last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine appointed an outside investigator to review the county’s inmate-release policies at both the county jail in downtown Seattle and the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.

After a third inmate in three months was accidentally released from jail last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine in Seattle appointed an outside investigator to review the county’s inmate-release policies at both the county jail in downtown Seattle and the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, the Seattle Times reports. The latest incident involved what officials called the “inadvertent release” of  Marc-Eugene Larson, who had been jailed since February on two counts of first-degree assault, accused of shooting two men. After a week of freedom, Larson, 38, was re-arrested on Monday and is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail.

“The scope of the review will include examining how court documents are processed and release procedures followed by the commitment officer, the release officer and sergeant that oversees the process,” said county spokesman Alex Fryer. “The investigator will also provide recommendations on best practices for inmate processing and release, and how best to coordinate with courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies.” On Oct. 1, a  judge ordered the release of a material witness in the criminal case against Larson. The witness, one of Larson’s alleged victims, spent three weeks in jail before he was let go. Based on the judge’s order to release the material witness, jail staff also released Larson. Willie Hayes, director of the King County Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention, said the jail became aware of Larson’s “inadvertent release” on Sunday from the prosecutor’s office and has started an investigation

from https://thecrimereport.org

FBI Is Probing Conditions in Cleveland’s Jail

The FBI is looking into possible civil rights violations in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County jail, where six people have died this year. A judge is refusing to send non-violent offenders to the facility over concern for their health and safety.

The FBI is looking into possible civil rights violations in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County jail, where six people have died this year over three months, reports Cleveland.com. Whether the inquiry was prompted by the deaths is unclear. Conditions at the jail, where the population exceeds capacity by hundreds of prisoners, are terrible, according to guards, former prisoners and other former and present jail employees. Guards are overwhelmed with the overcrowded pods, where inmates sleep on cots. The packed-in cells are locked down in what jail officials call “red-zoning” for most of the day, according to sources. A state inspection found guards failed to do the state-required medical screenings within 14 days. The jail also has been infested with bed bugs in recent years.

The deaths led to an outcry from Cleveland Municipal Judge Michael Nelson, a former president of the Cleveland NAACP, who said Wednesday that he would no longer send non-violent offenders to the jail over concern for their health and safety. The disclosure of the probe came the same day as Sheriff Clifford Pinkney announced that he wants to hire an independent expert to assess the jail’s operations. Of the six deaths deaths this year, two inmates hanged themselves, two had drugs in their system and two remain under investigation.

from https://thecrimereport.org

MN Officials Seek Aid For Mentally Ill in Jail

Law enforcement officials in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area convene a meeting and agree, “We can’t arrest our way out of the problem.” More than half of inmates in the Hennepin County Jail in Minneapolis have a mental health problem.

It’s become a refrain among those in the criminal justice system, and it was repeated again Thursday by law enforcement authorities from Ramsey and Hennepin counties in the Twin Cities area, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. “We can’t arrest our way out of the problem.” St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said it. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi essentially said the same thing, as did Ramsey County Sheriff Jack Serier, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal. The problem is repeat offenders. It has overcrowded jails and prisons and presented limited or bad options for police and deputies who come across people who struggle with mental health issues, addiction or both.

At a press conference Thursday, authorities sought to remind the public that they need resources and help from state lawmakers and other sectors to better deal with the problem. The press conference was convened after prosecutors and law enforcement officers from the two counties met with Ronal Serpas to talk about what they see as a nationwide problem. Serpas, a former police chief in New Orleans and Nashville, founded the organization Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration. Stanek estimated 52 percent of Hennepin County jail inmates suffer from some form of mental illness. In Ramsey County, the figure hovers around 27 percent, but many inmates may be undiagnosed, says the Ramsey County sheriff. Incarcerating people who suffer from mental health issues as their root problem does little to benefit public safety, officials said. Hennepin County may build a 140- to 150-bed facility at its workhouse that would offer interim treatment for people with mental health or addiction issues. Ramsey County has the same needs, Choi said, adding, “We  keep doing the same thing but expecting different results. That’s the definition of insanity.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Rights Group Plans Mass Bailout at NYC’s Rikers Island

More than 500 women and teenagers will be bailed out from New York City’s Rikers Island jail as part of a national campaign to dismantle a bail system that activists say discriminates against minorities and the poor. The effort is being spearheaded by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group, which plans to raise $5 million to fund the releases.

More than 500 women and teenagers will be bailed out from New York City’s Rikers Island jail as part of a national campaign to dismantle a bail system that activists say discriminates against minorities and the poor, the New York Times reports. The effort is spearheaded by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group, which plans to raise at least $5 million to fund the releases. While there have been other mass bailouts, organizers believe the effort at Rikers has the potential to be one of the largest ever. “The crux of the issue is that in New York City, we criminalize poverty,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “There are no wealthy people on Rikers Island because if you are wealthy, you go free because you make bail.”

Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced support for a plan to close Rikers Island, which is plagued by violence and poor conditions, after an independent commission recommended that the city replace Rikers with smaller jails spread throughout the boroughs. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights will not make bail decisions based on the crimes that an individual has been charged with, Kennedy said. Anyone who is eligible for bail is a candidate for assistance. “If a judge feels this person is a danger to society, they will not make them bail eligible,” Kennedy said. Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, questioned whether Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights would “take responsibility if these people commit another crime while out on bail.” The initiative ignores the concerns of crime victims and would place the public in danger, he added.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Many Jails Increase Mental Health Screening

More than 400 counties have passed resolutions to join the Stepping Up Initiative, which promotes use of evidence-based screening tools to identify inmates with a serious mental illness.

An estimated half a million people incarcerated in the U.S. have a serious mental illness. More than 40 percent of jail inmates have been told by a mental health professional that they had a mental health disorder. While about 1 in 4 jail inmates met the threshold for having serious psychological distress, only about a third of those were receiving treatment for it, NPR reports. County jails across the nation have taken steps to try keeping inmates with mental illness from coming back. One approach involves stepping up mental health screening, coupled with efforts to get inmates plugged into community-based treatment after they are released. Such efforts require often-unprecedented collaboration between those on the front lines of mental health and criminal justice. Research shows such collaboration is key to addressing the problems many jails face when they become their areas’ largest psychiatric facilities.

All Adams County, Il., inmates are screened for mental illness, for example, and medical providers there administer medications as needed. Inmates who are suicidal may be placed alone in a cell with nothing but a mat and a garment they wouldn’t be able to use to harm themselves. Efforts to reduce the number of inmates with mental illness need to involve the jail system, says Richard Cho of the Council for State Governments Justice Center, because they are “the front end of the criminal justice system.” In 2015, the Justice Center, with the National Association of Counties and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, launched the Stepping Up Initiative to help jails reduce the number of inmates with mental illness. More than 400 counties have passed resolutions to join the program, which promotes use of evidence-based screening tools to identify inmates with a serious mental illness. Inmates who screen positive are referred to a clinician for a follow-up assessment.

from https://thecrimereport.org

NYC Pays $280K Settlement for Rikers Anti-Gay Attack

According to a press release from the victim’s attorney, Thomas Hamm, a visitor to the Rikers Island facility, was beaten by two corrections officers hurling anti-gay slurs. Earlier this year, the Jail’s Action Committee released a report maintaining that conditions for visitors to Rikers “continue to be discouraging at best and traumatizing and violent at worst.”

The City of New York was ordered on Wednesday to compensate a visitor to Rikers Island who was beaten by two corrections officers hurling anti-gay slurs, according to a press release from the victim’s attorneys.

“For decades, the corruption and abuse at Rikers Island targeting incarcerated LGBT people—most of whom are black and brown—has gone unchecked. We are hopeful this resolution will make it harder for this kind of discrimination and brutality to continue,” said David B. Rankin, Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP Partner and Lambda Legal’s Co-Counsel in the case.

Rikers

The Rikers Island jail complex in New York City . Photo by David Oppenheimer via Flickr

According to the federal lawsuit, Thomas Hamm was visiting his boyfriend at Rikers in 2014 when two corrections officers on duty ordered them to stop holding hands, while other visitors were embracing their loved ones, calling them “faggots” and saying “you’ll burn in hell” before abruptly ending the visit.

As Mr. Hamm was leaving, the two officers grabbed him, repeatedly punching and kicking him, the complaint alleges. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, where he was diagnosed with facial fractures and head trauma.

The lawsuit also contends that supervisors tried to cover up the beating by accusing Hamm of provoking the attack, and arresting him. The charges were later dismissed.

Earlier this year, the Jail’s Action Committee released a report maintaining that conditions for visitors to Rikers “continue to be discouraging at best and traumatizing and violent at worst”despite efforts from lawmakers and officials to address the longstanding history of brutality and corruption at the facility.

“Women and men have reported being forced to strip down to their underwear, show officers their genitals, suffer through inappropriate touching of their breasts and genitals, and undergo cavity searches—even though these searches are directly in violation of Department of Correction (DOC) policy,” said the study.

Rikers, the nation’s second-largest jail after the Los Angeles County facility, has been the center of heated controversy over conditions inside the complex and alleged “torture” of inmates by guards. A commission headed by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman recommended closing Rikers, and in August Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to close the facility by 2027, replacing it with a “modern community-based jail system that is smaller, safer, and fairer.”

This summary was prepared by TCR Depuity Editor-Investigations Victoria Mckenzie.

from https://thecrimereport.org

NYC Pays $280K Settlement for Rikers Anti-Gay Attack

According to a press release from the victim’s attorney, Thomas Hamm, a visitor to the Rikers Island facility, was beaten by two corrections officers hurling anti-gay slurs. Earlier this year, the Jail’s Action Committee released a report maintaining that conditions for visitors to Rikers “continue to be discouraging at best and traumatizing and violent at worst.”

The City of New York was ordered on Wednesday to compensate a visitor to Rikers Island who was beaten by two corrections officers hurling anti-gay slurs, according to a press release from the victim’s attorneys.

“For decades, the corruption and abuse at Rikers Island targeting incarcerated LGBT people—most of whom are black and brown—has gone unchecked. We are hopeful this resolution will make it harder for this kind of discrimination and brutality to continue,” said David B. Rankin, Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP Partner and Lambda Legal’s Co-Counsel in the case.

Rikers

The Rikers Island jail complex in New York City . Photo by David Oppenheimer via Flickr

According to the federal lawsuit, Thomas Hamm was visiting his boyfriend at Rikers in 2014 when two corrections officers on duty ordered them to stop holding hands, while other visitors were embracing their loved ones, calling them “faggots” and saying “you’ll burn in hell” before abruptly ending the visit.

As Mr. Hamm was leaving, the two officers grabbed him, repeatedly punching and kicking him, the complaint alleges. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, where he was diagnosed with facial fractures and head trauma.

The lawsuit also contends that supervisors tried to cover up the beating by accusing Hamm of provoking the attack, and arresting him. The charges were later dismissed.

Earlier this year, the Jail’s Action Committee released a report maintaining that conditions for visitors to Rikers “continue to be discouraging at best and traumatizing and violent at worst”despite efforts from lawmakers and officials to address the longstanding history of brutality and corruption at the facility.

“Women and men have reported being forced to strip down to their underwear, show officers their genitals, suffer through inappropriate touching of their breasts and genitals, and undergo cavity searches—even though these searches are directly in violation of Department of Correction (DOC) policy,” said the study.

Rikers, the nation’s second-largest jail after the Los Angeles County facility, has been the center of heated controversy over conditions inside the complex and alleged “torture” of inmates by guards. A commission headed by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman recommended closing Rikers, and in August Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to close the facility by 2027, replacing it with a “modern community-based jail system that is smaller, safer, and fairer.”

This summary was prepared by TCR Depuity Editor-Investigations Victoria Mckenzie.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Advocates Seek to Close ‘Hopeless’ St. Louis Jail

Everyone who has been in St. Louis’ “Workhouse,” which houses 550 inmates, “echoes the same horror stories over and over,” said Rebecca Gorley of ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights law firm.

St. Louis advocacy organizations have long called for the closure of the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, known as the City Workhouse. A grassroots campaign hopes to reform bail practices and shutter the jail once and for all. The Close the Workhouse campaign issued a report Thursday making the case to shut down the facility, which holds 550 people, the vast majority of whom are awaiting trial, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “What we’re talking about isn’t a broken toilet or some mold on one wall. Everyone we’ve talked to who has been in the workhouse echoes the same horror stories over and over,” said Rebecca Gorley of ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights law firm.

The report details more than 30 years of controversy at the workhouse, dating back to a lawsuit filed over inhumane conditions in 1974. The city was sued again over the jail in 1990. In 2009, an American Civil Liberties Union report said the jail was overcrowded and unsanitary, and that staff allowed inmates to assault each other, ignored sexual harassment, and provided negligent medical care. In 2012, guards were accused of setting up gladiator-style fights between inmates. In November, the city was sued by seven former inmates alleging mold, oppressive heat, and rat and insect infestations in the 52-year-old facility. The federal suit, filed by ArchCity Defenders, argues that St. Louis officials have ignored the problems for years and seeks a judge’s order that would close the workhouse or fine the city $10,000 per day until problems are fixed. “The workhouse is a hopeless place. When you first walk in, you can feel the hopelessness,” said Inez Bordeaux, who spent 30 days there awaiting a probation violation hearing. “You can feel the desperation.” City officials say it isn’t feasible to close an institution that houses hundreds of people facing felony charges.

from https://thecrimereport.org