Thursday, April 23, 2020

Deitch on possible solutions for prisoner phone calls during COVID lockdown

The Texas prison system has placed about 1/3 of the inmate population on lockdown status, including denying them access to visitation and phone calls. Michele Deitch of UT's LBJ School had a good idea on how to mitigate the situation: Providing burner phones for in-cell use. In an email to Just Liberty, she wrote:
I agree it is a very reasonable accommodation to allow people to have phones calls during a lockdown, especially when it is as likely to be as prolonged as this one will surely be. It is not only good from a humanitarian prospective, but it mitigates the harms caused by the lack of family connectedness, the idleness, and the lack of any type of outside eyes on what is happening inside. It can also help prevent violence and provide a lifeline to any person experiencing abuse or who cannot access health care. (Speaking of which, without access to phones, how does the PREA hotline work?) I have advocated for this approach from the beginning, and support it wholeheartedly. 
That said, the practicalities will be incredibly challenging. There are usually one or two wall phones per housing unit, and they are located in the dayroom. I don’t know if they are allowing folks individual access to the dayroom during the lockdowns (they should be), but they probably aren’t. If they are, they should be allowed to use the phones then. If not, TDCJ should get some kind of mobile phone booth that can be taken around to the cells (it’s pretty awkward- looking, but I have seen one in use at another facility before). Of course, the phone would have to be sanitized between uses, which isn’t so easy to do, and if it isn’t done, it could just risk spreading the virus more. 
What REALLY should happen is that TDCJ should obtain and issue burner phones with no data that can just be used for phone calls and let the prisoners have them. They are doing this in England now. Believe it or not, they are literally surveying the inmates to find out which cell phone companies work best behind the walls (based on their illegal usage)! 
And of course, any of this is something TDCJ could do tomorrow. No legislative act required.
I looked up England's use of secure phones for prisoners and found this article from the East Anglian Daily Times. According to that source:
A total of 900 secure phone handsets will be given to prisoners at 55 jails, allowing risk-assessed inmates to speak to a small number of pre-authorised contacts.

Strict measures will ensure the phones are not misused with calls time limited and monitored closely and they will not have internet access, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

The handsets will also include measures to prevent non-secure SIM cards being used, the MoJ added. ...
Currently more than 50 prisons across England and Wales have in-cell telephony which allows prisoners to stay in touch with their family members in a controlled manner.

The MoJ said the new handsets will make sure this ability is balanced across all prisons, and promote stability in jails without existing in-cell phones.


M. D. Cohen said...

I agree, and I think it is a wonderful idea.
Scott, this is TDCJ, and without the first couple federal orders/consent decrees/injunctions, that are of course ignored and simultaneously, wholeheartedly, sworn to strict compliance, in fact, sworn to the department's going above and beyond any limitations the order may accidentally impose upon the liberty and freedom of the inmates [≠ (well≈)] offenders, that their only goal is to rehabilitate, and reintegrate back into society.

They find, that making it as hard as possible for offenders to stay connected with their families, actually reduces recidivism. When the offender is released and completely allienated from his family, most likely won't be arrested again; because as soon as their $100 gate money is gone, with no one to turn to, and nowhere to go, suicide is quite a valid option.

Recidivism and the revolving door are gone, and public safety, well it is much worse too, but recidivism is down, and they are shedding all forms of recent public safety gains. said...

You are dreaming, TDCJ will never do anything like that. They are so scared of Technology it is not even funny, When I taught Web Design at the Coffield Unit, one day one of the majors at the unit walked into monitor a class and saw an inmate going from page to page on a website he built. He ran from the room, believing the offender was on the internet, and in a minute there were a dozen guards and everyone was soon buck naked in the hall while they searched the room. Even after explaining, that the site only lived on the local network, they almost closed down the class.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that no communication is the constant norm for about 10,000 TDCJ inmates held in solitary confinement (and G5), some in solitary for DECADES !
Their "normal " is one 5-MINUTE phone call, each 3 MONTHS. Yes, read that again.
One 5-minute phone call in 3 month intervals.
Read The Texas Observers Michael Barajas' article on ad seg in TDCJ
They are placed in seg, with no way to get out, for many of them. It's up to the corrupt, unethical and sadistic TDCJ minions to release them.