FIGHTING TO REDUCE THE COST OF COMMUNICATION AND COMMISSARY IN CALIFORNIA
California Senate Bill 555, or the Jail Fair Access for Connections to Support (FACTS) Act, will reduce the heavy financial burden placed on the families and support systems of incarcerated people in California’s county jails and juveniles detention centers. Introduced by Senator Holly Mitchell, SB 555 would dramatically reduce the cost of communication (including phone calls, video calls, and electronic communication) and regulate the prices of commissary items in county jails across the state. The bill also prohibits counties from collecting commissions on these contracts and clarifies permissible expenditures for Incarcerated People’s Welfare Funds.
County jails in California charge up to $17 for a 15-minute phone call, nearly three times more than the cost of such a call in California state prisons. Furthermore, markups on commissary items make it difficult, if not impossible, for incarcerated people to afford basic necessities like food and hygiene products. The high cost of survival disrupts not only the economic stability of incarcerated people, but also their families and support systems on the outside. San Francisco recently made phone calls from city jails free and ended markups on commissary, and SB 555 is the first step in extending similar financial relief to all those in California’s jails.
Under California’s current system, each of the 58 county sheriffs independently negotiates contracts with private companies to provide communication and commissary services. County profits generated from these contracts through kickbacks and markups are placed into a fund that state law requires be used “for the benefit, education, and welfare” of incarcerated people. However, loopholes in the law have enabled these funds to be spent in other ways. SB 555 would close these loopholes and ensure that whatever profits the county brings in are properly reinvested to support people while they are incarcerated and during their transition back into their communities.
SB 555 passed the Senate on May 23 with a vote of 30-5, and is now in the Assembly. On July 9, the bill passed 7-1 out of the Committee on Public Safety after an informative hearing where advocates and lawmakers told their truths while dispelling myths spread by the opposition. It is now waiting to be heard by the Committee on Appropriations. Call your California legislators and tell them to support SB 555. Check back for more updates as we fight for relief for Californians!
Incarceration Reform is Needed, Redlands Community News
SB 555 to Go Before Assembly Vote July 9, Highland News
Restoring the FCC’s authority to regulate instate prison and jail phone call rates
In 2016, under former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s leadership, the FCC sought to cap prison and jail phone rates and fees. In a lawsuit brought by several prison telecom companies against the FCC, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to regulate instate prison and jail phone calls. As a result, only interstate caps remain in effect.
On June 10, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth introduced the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2019, which would restore the FCC’s authority to regulate instate prison and jail phone rates and fees, giving it the legal power to stop prison telecom companies from engaging in predatory behavior and help people behind bars to maintain and expand their connections to their loved ones on the outside.
The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2019 is named in honor of Ms. Martha Wright-Reed, a black woman who fought for affordable prison phone rates for over 20 years to remain in contact with her incarcerated grandson. Because of her advocacy and that of many other directly impacted people over decades, our work is possible.
Sign the petition to join the fight for prison phone justice and tell your senators to do the same by supporting the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2019.
The Pennsylvania Public School Teachers’ Retirement System voted to invest in Platinum Equity’s Fund V after the Board postponed its vote on the investment last May due to questions regarding the firm’s investment in Securus.
While reinvesting with Platinum Equity, the New York City Common Retirement Fund expanded its ban on private prisons investments to investments in the prison industrial complex more broadly. The decision and new policy has yet to be published.
Liberate Our Pensions
DEMANDING THAT OUR PUBLIC PENSIONS STOP INVESTING IN PLATINUM EQUITY, OWNERS OF SECURUS
Platinum Equity is a Beverly Hills-based private equity firm that owns Securus, one of the largest correctional telecom companies in the country.
Private equity firms use capital from pension funds, foundations, university endowments, and other institutional investors to “flip” private companies much like a contractor flips properties. After buying a company, a private equity firm will spend 4-6 years acquiring its competitors and increasing profitability before selling the company for a large profit. And unlike public companies that are traded on the stock market, private companies are typically shielded from public scrutiny and oversight.
Platinum Equity is currently fundraising from investors, meeting with pension funds all across the country to raise money for its next fund. Through our pension funds, we have the opportunity to #STOPPlatinumEquity from profiting off of communities directly impacted by mass incarceration, but we must act today! Platinum Equity will likely be finish fundraising in summer 2019. We must demand that our pension funds enforce the demands advocates have made of Platinum Equity using their investor power.
It's time to TAKE ACTION and #LiberateOurPensions!
PSERS Latest Investments Don’t Align with What Union Members Want, Philadelphia Inquirer
Pension Board OKs $300 million Investment in Private Equity Firm Connected to Prisons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
Pennsylvania Pension Backs Platinum Equity Despite Prison-Reform Critics, The Wall Street Journal
Pennsylvania Pension Wants Platinum Equity’s Answers on Prison Phone Operator, The Wall Street Journal
Performance Watch: Platinum Equity’s Fund, Private Equity International
FIGHTING TO MAKE communication free for incarcerated people in connecticut
Over the past year, Worth Rises and local advocates in Connecticut worked with State Representative Josh Elliott to introduce House Bill 6714, the nation’s most comprehensive free prison communication bill. HB 6714 would allow Connecticut residents to communicate with their incarcerated loved ones at no cost, prevent the state from collecting kickbacks on prison communication, and protect in-person visits for incarcerated people and their loved ones.
After a hard fought battle and in a disappointing end to Connecticut’s legislative session, lawmakers opted to table the groundbreaking bill for next year’s session. Importantly, however, the bill didn’t die on its merits. The bill failed because the omnibus vehicle carrying it failed in broader negotiations. This is frustrating, but gives hope as we continue to fight, and we will.
As a result of this fight, Connecticut has begun renegotiating its contract with Securus to drive rates down. So, while we continue the push for free phone calls in the next session, phone calls will be more affordable in the near term.
And though he tabled a final vote, on the floor, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter committed to prioritizing this bill in 2020 in order to still meet the 2021 effective date of the bill. We’ll be back in 2020 and we will hold leadership to that commitment.
Winners and Losers of the 2019 Legislative Session, CT News Junkie
Prison Inmates Shouldn’t Have to Pay for Phone Calls, The Hartford Courant
An Inside Perspective on Prisoners’ Phone Calls, The Hartford Courant
Legislation Prompts Review of Inmate Phone Contract, CT News Junkie
Letter to the Editor: Burden of Prison Calls too High, New Haven Register
Amid Controversy, CT Still Seeking More Profit from Inmate Calls, New Haven Register
Connecticut Considers Making Phone Calls Free for Prisoners, Associated Press
Free Phone Calls Could Finally Be Coming to Connecticut, The Intercept
City of boston news
Advocates pack City Hall to argue for disclosure, divestment, and reinvestment
Boston reinvests $150M in socially responsible companies and gives $100M to community banks
investment firm news
Divesting Boston’s Public and Private Funds from the Prison Industrial Complex
Last September, we partnered with dozens of local and national advocacy organizations, faith communities, university groups, and investment firms, to launch a coordinated prison divestment campaign in Greater Boston. The campaign calls for the City of Boston, university endowments, and individual investors to divest their assets from seven morally corrupt companies that operate within the prison industrial complex.
We are targeting the following companies for divestment: The GEO Group, CoreCivic, G4S, Securus Technologies, Global Tel Link, Keefe Group, and Trinity Services Group. Though this is by no means an exhaustive list of the companies involved in the prison industrial complex that we challenge, these companies employ irredeemable business models that depend entirely on human caging and control, which disproportionately targets black and brown bodies. They have no place in a free and just society.
In January of 2019, Boston City Councilors Lydia Edwards and Michelle Wu filed a hearing order for the Committee on Ways and Means to hold a hearing on the disclosure, socially responsible investment, and reinvestment of city funds. Before the hearing, we saw our first major win when Mayor Marty Walsh announced that the City of Boston would move $150 million of the city’s cash investments into socially responsible investments and another $100 million into community banks. While we recognize and applaud this effort, we continue to fight for the socially responsible investment of all the city’s cash investments and pension funds, amounting for more than $6 billion. So, on February 28, we packed City Hall with over 15 other organizations to make the case for Boston to divest all its city funds from the prison industrial complex!
Through divestment, we will weaken the financial stability and social capital of corporations profiting from incarceration and immigration detention. Join the movement and stay tuned for our next big win!
A New Day for Divestment, The Harvard Crimson
New Student Organization Calls for BU to Divest from Private Prison System, The Daily Free Press
Boston Must Divest from Prisons, Reinvest in its Values, Boston Business Journal
Councilors Press City on Investments, The Bay State Banner
Prison Divestment Advocates Rally, Deliver Petition to Harvard President Bacow, The Harvard Crimson
City of Boston Will Commit $150 Million to Activist Investments, The Boston Herald
Hearing Raises Questions about Boston Investments, The Boston Globe
defending directly impacted communities against COSTLY ONLINE MONEY TRANSFER fees
In July of 2018, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYS DOCCS) announced a new online money transfer service provided by JPay, one of its new private vendors. This new money transfer option, however, comes with exorbitant fees that users are manipulated into paying.
Free money transfer options still exist by money order or personal check, but JPay has intentionally built high barriers to access for these options. Personal checks, for example, while free to deposit, must now be mailed to JPay in Florida, instead of directly to the facility, with a deposit slip buried deep in the company's website. They have also taken many steps to incentivize use of its online system, like holding personal checks for ten days before depositing the funds. And its money transfer service is not the only product or service that JPay uses to exploit incarcerated people and their support networks. There’s also the exploitative fees they charge on debit release cards or prices they charge for electronic mail “stamps.”
While JPay works to extract as much wealth as it can from those incarcerated and those supporting them, we are continuously fighting back. We must prevent prison profiteers like JPay from further integrating itself and its exploitative tactics into NYS DOCCS. Working with a coalition of directly impacted advocates and allied organizations, we have moved NYS DOCCS to renegotiate its contract with JPay and lower money transfer fees between 2% and 41% depending on the amount deposited (effective May 1, 2019). Though a meaningful victory, we will continue to fight to eliminate money transfer fees.
Phone calls from rikers are free!
protecting NYC residents from the extraction of financial resources resulting from contact with the criminal legal system
For years, New York City, like many other cities, has generated revenue off of the people incarcerated in its local jails and the communities that support them.
In 2017, the city generated $22.6 million in telephone call commissions, commissary and vending machine sales, and disciplinary ticket fines. While some of these revenues merely cover the cost of products purchased for the incarcerated population, many translate into pure profits to the city. And though these profits are an incredibly small portion of the city's $1.4 billion correctional budget, they represent a substantial portion of the limited resources of the economically distressed communities targeted by its jail system.
On June 15, 2018, the New York City Council adopted the FY 2019 budget and, like prior years, it included over $20 million in expected revenues from directly-impacted communities. But there was still an important bill on the table that would help address a significant segment of these profits. Introduced by Speaker Corey Johnson, Intro 741 sough to make telephone calls from New York City jails free and prohibit the city from collecting revenues on the provision of telephone services.
Leading a coalition of nearly a dozen New York City advocacy organizations, we fought to pass Intro 741, which now protects directly-impacted communities from the annual extraction of nearly $10 million by the city and its telecom contractor, Securus, and open lines of communication for those who could not afford calls previously. On July 18, 2018, the New York City Council voted 42-3 to pass Intro 741 and roughly three weeks later, on August 6, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed it into law.
On May 1, 2019, phone calls out of New York’s city jails finally became free, making it the first jurisdiction in the country to make such calls free! Phone calls are up 38% since.
New York City Jail Inmates Can Now Make Free Phone Calls, The Wall Street Journal
Phone Calls from New York City Jails Will Soon Be Free, The New York Times
City Must Stop Using Incarcerated People as Revenue Source, Gotham Gazette
Directive #4911A has been suspended!
PROTECTING INCARCERATED people AND THEIR LOVED ONES FROM commercial PACKAGE vendors
In December of 2017, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYS DOCCS) released Directive #4911A, amending the rules governing prison packages.
The directive, which went into effect as a pilot program in Greene, Green Haven, and Taconic Correctional Facilities in early January, prohibited families, friends, and organizations from sending packages directly to anyone who is incarcerated. Instead, it required them to use six approved private vendors who generally sell low quality items at exploitative prices. The directive also prohibited the purchase of fresh fruit and vegetables and direct donation of new and used books.
Expected to roll out to all NYS DOCCS facilities by the fall of 2018, Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended the Secure Vendor Pilot Program after just 10 days following public backlash. But as a coalition of directly-impacted people and other criminal justice advocates, we are pushing forward for the full termination of this exploitative program.
Cuomo Halts a Controversial Prison Package Policy, The New York Times
New York Cancels Private Prison Care Packages Program, The Marshall Project
What Can't You Send to an Inmate in New York? Apples, Used Books and More, The New York Times
New York Makes it Harder for Inmates to Get Books, The New Yorker
The Latest Big Win for Prison Privatization, The Marshall Project
Sing Sing's Gun Buyback
Removing firearms from NYC streets in collaboration with Voices From Within
In 2012, a group of men at Sing Sing Correctional Facility raised nearly $8,000 from among 1,600 prisoners to launch a gun buyback with the NYPD. Their donor match fell through and consequently they fell short of the minimum amount needed to get the initiative off the ground.
Please help these men, now collectively known as Voices From Within, raise the matching funds necessary to finally launch this gun buyback. If successful, it could remove approximately 100 to 200 guns off New York City streets. Your contribution demonstrates your support for the twin goals of improving public safety and promoting second chances.
Thanks to Yusef Kassim and friends for their generous matching commitment of $3,895.