Tag Archive: extortion

Sixty-Eight Organizations Urge Federal Consumer Agency to Protect Former Prisoners from Excessive Release Debit Card Fees

JPayCardWashington, DC – Yesterday, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) filed a comment with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an independent federal agency, urging the CFPB to add language related to protecting the finances of released prisoners to a proposed rule regarding regulation of prepaid debit cards. Sixty-eight criminal justice reform groups, civil rights organizations and public interest law clinics joined in the comment.

 The comment requests that the CFPB exercise its authority under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) to add language to a proposed rule regarding regulation of prepaid accounts under EFTA and the Truth in Lending Act that extends the ban on compulsory use to prepaid debit cards given to released prisoners that contain the funds remaining in their prison accounts, bans all fees associated with such cards and provides other protections as needed.

 The use of third-party release debit cards is a growing trend in U.S. prisons and jails, where companies see an opportunity to profit off people who have no choice on whether or not to use release debit cards with associated fees. Around 650,000 people are released from state and federal prisons each year, while approximately 11.6 million cycle through local jails.

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Jail Video Visits Are No Substitute for the Real Thing

A video visit does not replace an in-person visit, in any universe.

A video visit does not replace an in-person visit, in any universe.

From Truth Out/By Maya Schenwar

As the word “reform” swirls around current conversations about the criminal legal system, many proposed ideas involve new technologies. The techier, the assumption goes, the better! Data-driven “predictive policing” is branded as a route to figuring out where crime is going to happen. (In reality, such tactics involve using previous arrest data to increasingly target neighborhoods of color.) “Risk assessment tools” are sold as key to determining who can safely be paroled – but depending on how they’re used, they may deepen the racist disparities they supposedly counter. Electronic monitoring is advertised as a path toward reducing incarceration, but monitors are actually enlarging the bounds of who is caught inside the carceral system.

All the while, these technological “solutions” are padding the pockets of private companies – at the expense of people of color and the poor.

Video visitation is one such shiny-yet-insidious technology, which has rapidly spread over the past couple of years: More than 500 jails and prisons around the country are now experimenting with it. On the one hand, for people incarcerated far away from their loved ones, video visits could be a welcome channel of communication, allowing them to “meet” face-to-face without requiring long, expensive journeys. The “visits” also offer young children, the elderly and people with disabilities – who might be less able to travel – the opportunity for some face time.

Still, a video visit is no real substitute for an in-person visit, in any universe. However, as a recent report by Prison Policy Initiative documents, the introduction of video visitation often forcibly replaces in-person visits, in order to maximize profits for the private companies that provide the technology. Family and friends, most of whom don’t have much money, are then compelled to pay for the (heftily priced) video calls if they want to see their loved ones’ faces. Add to this the fact that many poor families don’t have access to the equipment necessary to receive a video call – and so, for some, video visitation simply spells the end of visits. (more…)

As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying The Price

The funds from the rising costs of court fees in places like Allegan County, Mich., are used to help pay for all sorts of court-related items, including this fitness center for county employees.

The funds from the rising costs of court fees in places like Allegan County, Mich., are used to help pay for all sorts of court-related items, including this fitness center for county employees.

From NPR- All Things Considered

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In Augusta, Ga., a judge sentenced Tom Barrett to 12 months after he stole a can of beer worth less than $2.

In Ionia, Mich., 19-year-old Kyle Dewitt caught a fish out of season; then a judge sentenced him to three days in jail.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., Stephen Papa, a homeless Iraq War veteran, spent 22 days in jail, not for what he calls his “embarrassing behavior” after he got drunk with friends and climbed into an abandoned building, but because he had only $25 the day he went to court.

The common thread in these cases, and scores more like them, is the jail time wasn’t punishment for the crime, but for the failure to pay the increasing fines and fees associated with the criminal justice system.

A yearlong NPR investigation found that the costs of the criminal justice system in the United States are paid increasingly by the defendants and offenders. It’s a practice that causes the poor to face harsher treatment than others who commit identical crimes and can afford to pay. Some judges and politicians fear the trend has gone too far.

state-by-state survey conducted by NPR found that defendants are charged for many government services that were once free, including those that are constitutionally required. For example:

  • In at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for a public defender.
  • In at least 41 states, inmates can be charged room and board for jail and prison stays.
  • In at least 44 states, offenders can get billed for their own probation and parole supervision.
  • And in all states except Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.

These fees — which can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars — get charged at every step of the system, from the courtroom, to jail, to probation. Defendants and offenders pay for their own arrest warrants, their court-ordered drug and alcohol-abuse treatment and to have their DNA samples collected. They are billed when courts need to modernize their computers. In Washington state, for example, they even get charged a fee for a jury trial — with a 12-person jury costing $250, twice the fee for a six-person jury. (more…)

Prison Phone Calls Will No Longer Cost a Fortune

jail-phone-revenuePrison phone rates have decreased by 25% to 50% overnight thanks to new U.S. rules, according to one service provider

From Corporate Media

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. prison inmates and their families will now be able to speak by phone at much lower prices thanks to new federal rules that went into effect on Tuesday. The new rules were crafted by the Federal Communications Commission and are designed to crack down on what prison inmate advocates call abusive and predatory practices by phone companies.

For over a decade, many prison inmates in both state and federal facilities have paid significantly higher rates to make interstate phone calls than people outside of correctional facilities. According to the FCC, some prison inmates have had to pay as much as $17 for a 15 minute phone call.

The new rate caps, which were passed by the agency last fall under the leadership of acting FCC Chair Mignon Clyburn, impose a limit of 21 cents per minute for debit or pre-paid calls and 25 cents per minute for collect calls. At those levels, the cost of a 15-minute call would be reduced by as much 80% to $3.15.

“This is a huge victory for justice for ordinary people at an agency that is usually more attuned to private interests,” says Cheryl A. Leanza, policy director at the United Church of Christ, which has long advocated prison phone reform. “Increasing the connections between families and inmates helps all of us. Strong family connections improve the likelihood that when inmates are released, they will not become repeat offenders, and that makes our society safer. We are very grateful to Commissioner Clyburn.” (more…)