One of the many collateral consequences of incarceration is the exorbitant cost of making phone calls.
It’s also a significant source of local revenue.
As of 2018, Shelby County, Tn., made more than $1 million from phone call fees, and that sum was off commission alone.
Perhaps worse than the steep price of calling home, correctional authorities have been accused of intercepting, recording, and otherwise monitoring inmates’ calls on multiple occasions.
As recently as April, prison officials in Georgia, Alabama, and California were using a software called Verus to monitor inmate calls for mentions of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Verus system “automatically downloads, analyzes, and transcribes all recorded inmate calls, proactively flagging them for review.”
According to Verus, conversations including the phrases “disease in here,” “cough,” and “sneezing” were flagged.
On the heels of one major victory – the Federal Communications Commission blocked Securus Technologies’ attempted acquisition of its last major competitor ICSolutions — advocates for “prison phone justice” have secured another one.
CoreCivic, which runs the federal, private-owned Leavenworth Detention Center in Kansas, along with its phone provider, Securus Technologies, agreed to pay $3.7 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the attorneys of inmates, The Associated Press reports.
A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri approved the settlement Wednesday.
In the suit, the lawyers alleged that calls with their clients at the correctional facility were illegally recorded.
CoreCivic and Securus Technologies agreed to pay the $3.7 million into a fund that will be divided among the attorneys who had their in-person or phone communications intercepted.
Attorneys who had their in-person visits or phone calls monitored will be entitled to up to $10,000 in compensation, and those who had both in-person visits and phone calls intercepted will be entitled to up to $20,000.
Meanwhile, $1.3 million will be set aside for attorneys’ fees.
Mike Hodgson, an attorney for the petitioners, said 500 inmates were subject to the wiretapping. These individuals will have to claim their compensation after receiving notice of the settlement, the Kansas City Star reports.
Despite its decision to settle, CoreCivic continues to deny any wrongdoing on the part of its company and employees.
Wednesday’s settlement comes after years of litigation between inmates and the two companies.
Last year, the companies agreed to settle a 2016 lawsuit – which made similar allegations – for $1.6 million. The named petitioners in that suit will each receive $25,000 out of the $3.7 million.
In 2019, a U.S. district judge held the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas in contempt of court for violating court orders during an independent investigation of its systemic practice of monitoring inmates’ phone calls.
The same judge found that several federal prosecutors illegally listened to recorded communications between inmates and their lawyers.
Editor’s Note: For additional information on criminal justice reforms – both proposed and implemented, please see The Crime Report’s “Reforming the System” resource page.
See also: “How the Fight for ‘Prison Phone Justice’ Scored a Major Victory” by Bianca Tylek, The Crime Report, April 23, 2019
Michael Gelb is a TCR News Intern. He welcomes comments from readers.