States Pay Local Jails to House State Prisoners

Louisiana’s state prisons are so overcrowded, inmates are serving time in local jail cells intended to hold prisoners serving short sentences or just awaiting trial, according to an article in The Intercept. In Louisiana, 75 percent of local holding cells are now occupied by inmates under state jurisdiction because they’ve been sentenced to serve time in state-run institutions. However, those state-run institutions don’t have enough room to hold them all.

In Mississippi, such state prisoners occupy 55 percent of the beds in local jails. In Kentucky, the figure is 45 percent.

The local jails are run and paid for by local jurisdictions, not by the state, so the state government must pay the local city or county to house their prisoners. This has been a financial boon to those city and county governments because, without the state prisoners, the cells would be empty. By leasing them to the state, the local government gains a source of revenue. Therefore, the practice is lucrative for the local governments, who are often facing their own budget constraints.

However, many criticize the practice because the local jail cells lack the educational and rehabilitation services that are available to inmates housed in state correctional facilities.

The Prison Policy Initiative just released a report on this problem. It turned out to be much bigger than they thought, Prison Policy Initiative Executive Director Peter Wagner said.

In Oklahoma, the state pays sheriffs $27 per day to house the inmates. For some counties, that is up to 7 perdent of their budgets. In some counties, calling up state prison officials asking for new inmates is part of their daily routine.

Inspector General Report Finds Federal Prison System Grossly Overspending on Medical Care for Inmates

A new Justice Department watchdog report states that the U.S. federal prison system is spending too much money on medical care for inmates due to an over-reliance on medical care outside of the prison system.

According to a report made by the inspector general, the Bureau of Prisons spent around $100 million more than what is spent by Medicare on outside medical care in 2014. In addition, the report states that all of the 69 prison facilities have paid reimbursement rates higher than what is paid by Medicare.

The Bureau of Prisons purchases medical care for around 170,000 inmates nationwide, and has the ability to negotiate its own rates for medical providers and services. Moreover, the BOP is not under any government statute that allows it to set the reimbursement rate. This is part of the reason for the increased spending. The inspector general report concludes with suggesting the prison system looking into means of cutting costs spent on outside medical care.

http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2016-06-09/watchdog-report-faults-prison-system-on-medical-spending

Video Visits Not Making Profits

In Movember 2014, Bastrop County Jail in Texas decided to do away with in person visitation and replace it with video visitation. The sheriff’s office claimed it was to save money and to improve safety. The visits now are fraught with technical issues.

Recent records show that only a few visits are logged each month, and all the money made from the video visits go back into paying for the expensive system. Visitors have the option of going to the jail, using the video system for free, or they can use it from home for 1 USD per minute. The Prison Policy Initiative, a group advocating for inmates and their families, claims that this system is failing to meet the revenue expectations.

Only 49 visits were logged one month as compared to the over 2,000 phone calls. The county jail has to pay Securus back for each unit they have. Unfortunately, they have only been able to pay for one unit per year. The jail will not see a profit until 2025. The jail currently earns 84,000 from phone calls in a year.

The Prison Policy Initiative says the video system is failing to make a profit, because it has too many technical difficulties. Also, the lack of in person contact has a terrible effect on inmates. The video visitation system could lead to more behavioral problems from inmates.

Source

Telmate Exceeds Communication Benchmark

While the inmate communications industry has been under scrutiny for over charging over the past few months, one company that has been making positive contributions to the industry appears to be reaping the benefits. According to a recent article (http://www.prweb.com/releases/2016/05/prweb13427463.htm), Telmate, which is one of the leaders in the inmate communications industry, has recently surpassed a very impressive benchmark.

Telmate, which is based in San Francisco, recently announced that they have gone over 5.5 million minutes of inmate phone and messaging minutes in the past 30 days. Making this figure even more impressive is the fact that they are currently only in 50 different correctional facilities across the country.

Telmate’s largest success so far in the industry has been the introduction of tablet computers in the facilities. The tablet can now be used as video messaging tools, which will establish a secure connection between the prisoner and the recipient of the video message.

The correctional facilities have stated that the tablets have provided a number of expected and unexpected benefits. One of the expected benefits has been that it has made the prisons a safer place to live. This is largely due to the fact that not as many in-person visitations are needed, which limits the amount of resources need to be spent in the visitation rooms and reduces the number of illegal items snuck into the prison. Further, the tablet system also uses software that finds unusual patters in communication, which can help to solve or stop a crime.

Correctional facilities have also stated that the tablets have been a great way to encourage good behavior. Some believe that having access to the tablet as motivation has likely led to better overall behavior in the prison, which has led to a reduction in fights and other outbursts among inmates.

Flooding and Power Outages Wreak Havoc on Texas Prisons

Recent bad weather in Texas has caused a lot of issues for some local prisons.

Due to severe flooding, two prison units are being evacuated and bused to other prisons. The weather and flooding caused a large blackout within the prison walls. A brawl soon escalated between the prisoners and guards.

Upwards of 2,600 prison inmates are being relocated to nearby prisons. Evacuation procedures began on Sunday morning. Along with the extra inmates, surrounding prisons will be receiving extra food and water to help reduce the added burden to their systems. For the prisons that may still be affected by floods and heavy rains, sandbags and other supplies were being sent out. Ramsey Unit, a smaller, low-level security prison in the same area, simply had to move some of its inmates to the main building.

The heavy rains and flooding wreaked havoc on Luther Unit in Navasota, Texas. The prison, which is located roughly seventy miles northwest of Houston, suffered huge power outages. When prison guards ordered the inmates to return to their cells, some of the did not comply and a brawl ensued. The fight included now less than fifty inmates, but things have since returned to normal

Recent Study Shows Women Face Unique Harm from Solitary Confinement

The American Civil Liberties Union conducted a study and consequently released a report concerning the use of solitary confinement on female prisoners. The report made it extremely clear that isolation is a punishment that should only be used in situations where no other consequence will suffice. Solitary confinement should be reserved for cases where a prisoner is an active threat to the safety of other people. The study also shows that the unique issues faced by women put them in a position of additional harm than men who are placed in solitary confinement.

The report used recent data to determine that between 80,000 and 100,000 prisoners, both male and female, in the United States that are housed in solitary confinement.

The generalized effects of solitary confinement on the human mind have been well studied in previous years. Previous studies have also shown that the majority of inmates who are placed in solitary confinement are isolated due to behaviors that are caused by mental illness. Other studies have shown that being in solitary confinement can make the symptoms of mentally ill patients worse. However, there has been very little data collected that is specifically focused on the female jail and prison population.

Current estimates approximate that the number of women that are incarcerated annually. While they are incarcerated, women face problems that are gender specific. The majority of sexual abuse victims are women. Being in solitary confinement can cause those who have been victims of sexual abuse to relive their victimization. This is partially because prisoners who are in solitary confinement are watched on a constant basis, even at times that should be private, like using the restroom and showering.

Many times, women who are in solitary confinement are under the supervision of a male guard, without another female present. This practice directly violates the Prison Rape Elimination Act that prohibits a guard of the opposite sex from searching a nude prisoner. Even though this act is in place, the practice still continues, which dramatically increases the possibility of sexual misconduct from staff.

FCC Acts to Curb Exorbitant Inmate Phone Charges

For years, people who have loved ones in jail or prison have complained about phone service providers who charge sky-high fees for the ability to call and chat with an inmate. Charges can reach as high as $14 per minute. A recent New York Times article bluntly labels this price-gouging.

The efforts of inmates’ families to change the system have finally been rewarded. Recently, the Federal Communications Commission set limits on the rates inmates communications companies charge for most phone calls. This ruling expands a similar move two years ago that applied to interstate phone calls.

There are both humanitarian and practical reasons to limit the charges. It is hard to justify forcing inmates’ loved ones, many of whom are poor, to choose between buying necessities and staying in contact. Reforms are also in the public interest. Advocates have shown that a prisoner who maintains contact with family and community while serving time is less likely to return to crime and end up back in jail That benefits everybody.

There is more to be done. The FCC’s current rules do not cover other types of personal telecommunication like voice mail and video calls. The FCC is already moving ahead with public comment on this issue.

Both political leaders and advocates for inmates want the FCC to ban a common practice in which phone providers pay a kickback to corrections facilities. These payments add to the cost of inmate phone communications. However, it isn’t certain that the FCC has the authority to prohibit the use of these “commissions.” A final issue that reformers want to address is the practice of curtailing in-person visits with inmates. Where phone companies have persuaded prison officials to do this, inmates are left with no option but to pay the high calling rates.

Staffing and Overcrowding in Prisons Reaches High in Michigan

It’s no news that the prison industry is struggling with overpopulation, but the effect it has on the staff of prisons is becoming more apparent. In Michigan, the Huron Valley Correctional Facility is a women’s prison who has recently experienced overcrowding due to the fact that it is the only women’s prison in Michigan. Instead of hiring more guards to accommodate the overpopulation, Huron Valley has implemented a new policy that requires all guards to work mandatory overtime. This doesn’t include holiday pay either. These shifts can thus last for days, and the end result on the guards causes them to be exhausted mentally and physically.

The prisoners are under pressure as well. The overcrowding causes more aggression in the inmates, and combined with the overworked staff makes for a tense atmosphere and dangerous situations. Without proper mental and physical health conditions, the possibility of the relations between the inmates and guards becoming aggressive is higher than ever. A spokesman for the Correctional Department has said on record that if a correctional officer cannot perform overtime duties, then they are disciplined. However, this matter could simply be solved with hiring more correctional officers. In which case the officers would be able to perform their jobs more effectively. The Correctional Department has stated that they are aware of the staffing problems, but have not made much of an effort to find more employees.

Reinstating the Work Release Program in NYC Would Asssist Prisoners in Re- Entering Society

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch wants to designate a National Re-entry Week to celebrate the prisoners released into society every year, but, at the same time, she is aware of the high recidivism rates and the laws that make the transition so difficult.

According to the American Bar Association, there are over 47,000 laws and local ordinances in the United States that are designed to penalize someone who has had a connection with the criminal justice system. They ultimately restrict the offender from attaining complete reintegration into society.

In New York, state prisoners are released every week with the same two challenges facing them: the lack of affordable housing and the inability to secure employment. Without these two essentials, ex-prisoners end up in NYC’s shelter system relying on government assistance when they should be encouraged to start a new life. These issues cause 80 percent of released prisoners to be arrested and returned to prison.

To combat these rising recidivism numbers, New York State is required to add something substantial that would improve the reentry for ex-prisoners, and the most readily accessible solution is reinstating the work release program. This program has already proven to be successful, so no additional research is needed, and it would address both issues.

Reinstating the work release program in New York would allow people to gain some amount of work experience and build savings for housing expenses. These are the two largest hurdles that released prisoners would pave the road to their re-entry into the real world.

By reinstating the program, everyone becomes a winner: the released prisoner gains confidence and security re-entering his environment and citizens of New York City are not spending their taxes on supporting the government-subsidized lifestyle. Most importantly, it prevents more unnecessary crime from taking place.

Phone Calls Costing Families to Reach Out to Incarcerated Loved Ones

Communication in prison can be costly. The only real ways to communicate are by visiting, letters, or by email. If you are lucky, then you may be able to send emails. The main way to talk daily is the phone and it could cost.

Many prisons use the same telephone communication service, so it becomes a monopoly. The charges people have to pay to reach their loved ones is astronomical. People have been calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the FCC replied with a lawsuit. Despite the legal ruling, change has been slow.

Grayson County, TX have been asking that the phone company cap their fees to help comply with the ruling. The county jail and commissioners agree that keeping inmates connected with their families help to ease friction. They also want to use the phone system for law enforcement possibilities, but this shouldn’t cost the inmates or their family and friends.

Grayson County is slowly starting to make changes that have been years in the making, but many people still pay exorbitant fees to keep in touch with their family and friends in jail. The change is coming, but it is very slow. This system of high fees have been in place for a long time, and the jails and prisons must revise existing contracts to comply.