Tag Archives: county jail

Prison Pay Phone Problems In The County Lock Up

An interesting article about the challenges of newly booked prisoners using the prison pay phones in county jails. As stated in the article, the inablity to make collect calls to cell phones, “strikes people strange that, in this technologically advanced and cellphone-reliant age, there is no easy way to make a collect call to a cellphone, particularly as the number of people without a land line increases. According to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control report, 25 percent of U.S. households don’t even have a land line.”

At meshDETECT, we have developed a solution to this problem that provides new detainees a prepaid account and telephone access at the time of intake. Please contact us to find out more about this innovative solution.

Where was Stephen Petrick? That was the question among his friends in mid-November after the 67-year-old retiree suddenly disappeared.

At the time, no one knew that he had been trying to help a pregnant woman kick a nasty heroin habit by locking her inside his Santa Monica home so she couldn’t buy drugs, or that she had tried to flee and things turned ugly fast, ending with the cops arresting Petrick on a charge of false imprisonment.

Not one of Petrick’s friends had an inkling that Petrick was stuck inside the Los Angeles County jail system — for five long nights — unable to contact them or a bondsman because of the phone setup inmates are forced to use.

“You supposedly have the right to bail,” Petrick says, “but it was effectively denied by the way the phone system works. It should be criminal.”

Petrick says he was arrested in Santa Monica, where he was fingerprinted and booked at the city jail. When he asked to make a phone call, officers told him he had to wait until he was transferred to the L.A. County jail later that day.

At the county jail, Petrick says, he told the deputies that he had high blood pressure and diabetes, so he was placed in a medical unit. He describes it as a large room with 20 to 30 inmates, a few narrow, stainless-steel benches and two or three telephones.

Immediately, Petrick says, he walked up to one of the old-fashioned-looking pay phones, a big black box with patches of chrome but absent a coin slot. Petrick lifted the receiver and placed it to his ear, listening to the automated voice tell him he’d be making a collect call and that it may be recorded or monitored.

Petrick reached out to dial a number. He paused.

Like many people, Petrick had come to rely on his cellphone. He wasn’t as good as he used to be about memorizing phone numbers. Excitedly, he recalled one person’s cell number and dialed it.

His elation, however, quickly turned to anxious frustration as the automated voice told Petrick that he could not place a collect call to a cellular phone. He could only call out to a land line. Trouble was, he hadn’t memorized any land-line numbers.

Hell, he hardly even knew anyone with a land line anymore.

“I realized right away that I had a problem,” Petrick says.

Next, Petrick says, he looked around for a phone book or a posted list of bond agencies so he could arrange to pay bail. The bond was $150,000, an amount Petrick says he had no problem paying. But he needed to call someone on the outside to help.

Unfortunately, he says, he could not find a list of phone numbers for bail bondsmen. When he asked a deputy for help, Petrick says, the deputy was resolutely unhelpful, telling him, “That’s your problem. If we gave you the number, that would be showing partiality.”

After spending a few sleepless nights in the large room filled with other inmates, Petrick says, he was moved to a more permanent cell with access to a common room containing phones. Doubting they would be any different, Petrick tried once again to place a call. But the results were the same. No collect calls to cellphones. No phone list of bail bonds agencies.

Petrick says he was not able to arrange bail until after he had his first court appearance — four days after his arrest.

“There was no way in hell for me to call anyone or to get a bondsman’s number,” he says. “The phones in there effectively denied me the right to make bail, and I don’t know if many people know about this.”

Jeff Stanley, owner of Bad Boys Bail Bonds, one of the largest bond companies in California, with offices from San Jose to San Diego, says the phone situation at L.A. County jail is one of the worst in the state.

“The individuals in custody are held hostage to this phone system that they have to use to talk to an attorney or a bondsman — something they have the legal right to do,” Stanley says. “I truly believe that it’s a violation of their civil rights, because everyone has a right to bail, and this is interfering with that right.”

Says Esther Lim, the jails monitor for the American Civil Liberties Union and one of the few people actually allowed inside the notoriously restricted facility, “I didn’t see a listing of bail-bonds companies near any of the phones I’ve looked at. I have seen listings by the phones for your ambassador if you’re not a U.S. national, but nothing for bail bonds. It’s ridiculous.”

Nicole Nishida, spokeswoman for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, confirms there are no phone numbers provided for bail bondsmen near phones to which inmates have access.

“And we have no plans of doing it in the future,” she says.

Nishida calls the problem a “vending issue” that would have to be resolved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. She says it boils down to fairness: making sure the Sheriff’s Department does not display favoritism toward any particular bail bonds businesses.

Officials in other counties, however, say they’re having no such problem and have found easy ways to provide phone numbers to everybody in jail.

An Orange County jail spokeswoman, for example, says that a list of bond companies, with phone numbers, is posted in both the booking area and in the common rooms used by inmates. She says the bond agencies must contact a company that contracts with the county, and they pay to get on the list that goes inside the jail.

In San Diego County, the Sheriff’s Department used to provide inmates with the Yellow Pages but recently replaced the bulky phone book with an alphabetical listing of bail bonds companies provided to the jail by a local association of bail agencies.

“L.A. County does not post a list,” says bondsman Stanley, “and I have no idea why. L.A. County marches to its own beat.”

In addition, it strikes people such as Stanley, Lim and Petrick as strange that, in this technologically advanced and cellphone-reliant age, there is no easy way to make a collect call to a cellphone, particularly as the number of people without a land line increases. According to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control report, 25 percent of U.S. households don’t even have a land line.

Stanley’s is one of them.

“Many families like myself don’t have a land line,” he says, “and I think it’s about time they moved into the 21st century.”

Dorothy Cukier of Global Tel Link, a company that specializes in prison phones and operates the system in L.A. County, told the Weekly via email that collect calls in general — whether they originate from a jail or not — are limited to land lines. The company is allowed to jump in when inmates call a cellphone, offering the recipient of the call a chance to sign up for a service, AdvancePay, which lets calls to cellphones go through, by using a credit card. Another option, Cukier says, is for inmates to put money into an inmate debit account, out of which they can pay to call a phone that does not ordinarily accept collect calls.

Petrick says he was never offered an inmate debit account and has no idea whether a Global Tel Link agent jumped in to ask the friend Petrick had called if he’d accept the charge. All Petrick knows is that he couldn’t get through to his friend.

Two months after Petrick finally arranged bail and got out of jail, he settled his criminal case, which prosecutors apparently agreed wasn’t as serious as the initial charges implied. He pled guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment. He received three years of probation and, ironically, credit for time served for his five nights missing in the jail system.

As for the future, Petrick says, “The first thing I’m going to do is carry a bail bondsman’s number with me at all times and memorize it in case there’s some fluke and I get in trouble again. I don’t want to ever get stuck in jail like that again. It was a nightmare.”


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Visiting Family In Jail No Easy Task

This article is about the challenges and indignities of visiting a loved one in jail. The sheriff in charge of the jail discusses the environment in the visiting room, “There are loads of kids there. And a strong part of me says that’s not a good environment for any child. I don’t want kids seeing this stuff. The other side is, if they’re connecting with their father, that’s a good thing, too. We can’t do it any other way because we have so many visitors, so many prisoners. You want to make it better. I’m struggling how to pull that off.”

Certainly families want and deserve to see their incarcerated love ones. In addition to visitation however, enhanced and more frequent telephone conversations would assist in allowing children of prisoners to connect with their incarcerated parent. Part of the challenge for prisons in allowing access to prison payphones is the safety risk of prisoner movement required to get prisoners to the phones. By deploying the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution, prisons can minimize the need for prisoner movement which enhances the safety of both detainees and guards while offering families more frequent and higher quality contact with their incarcerated loved ones.

Every Thursday since the arrest of his son July 30, Neal Tarshis rolls his wheelchair to a bus stop to begin a trek to Cook County Jail.

“I see him as much as they let me,” says Tarshis, over the rumble of the #93 bus. “I want him to know someone cares.”

Tarshis, 63, in a wheelchair because of severe arthritis, lives in Astoria Place, a nursing home at 6300 N. California. It is a two-hour, four-bus commute — the #93 to the #82 to the #126 to the #94 — to get to the jail at 3000 S. California. Once, he says, he made the trip only to find he couldn’t get in to see his son.

“I went with Neal,” said a friend. “They changed visiting hours without notice. They didn’t treat him nice. It was a nightmare.”

Tarshis wrote to me to complain, and since I couldn’t go back in time and observe how he was handled or mishandled at the jail, the thing to do was to go with him and watch.

Some 11,000 prisoners live at the jail, giving it the population of Edison Park. The mayor of the jail, so to speak, is Sheriff Tom Dart, and if you expect him to be defensive about mistreated visitors, you’d be wrong.

“I detest apologists rationalizing bad behavior,” Dart said. “Sometimes there’s elements of truth in both sides. There are times when I scratch my head why we’re not treating someone with more respect who comes to visit.” Dart sympathizes with the 1,000 or so daily visitors, who must pass through tight security for their 15-minute visit.

“These are decent people and we’re not treating them with a red carpet,” the sheriff said. “They’ve gone through hell enough as it is, lives turned upside down by a grandson or a nephew. These are grandparents coming in, aunts and uncles. They’ve done nothing wrong. How does it work for our office to treat people like trash?”

But he also sympathizes with his officers.

“Objectively, I challenge someone to find a more difficult job than being a correctional officer,” he said. “It’s a very, very difficult job. Can the public be unreasonable? Yes. Can the correctional officer? Yes. But we’ve tried to be much more customer-friendly.”

Two hours is a long time on buses, and Tarshis reminisces about his son, a Navy vet.

“I have so many memories of when he was little,” said Tarshis. “He was very intelligent, very responsible. He got A’s in all his subjects. He’s not a bad child, he’s sweet.”

His son, 36, has too many problems to summarize here. Suffice it to say this is his third time in jail, not for a grave crime — he didn’t kill anybody — and I’m not using his name to make it easier if he pulls himself together.

Tarshis and I join a long line outside the tall concertina wire-topped fence around the jail. The guards take us five at a time, ordering us to have our IDs ready, reminding us that we cannot bring in cell phones or pens.

Once, visitors were told to bury their contraband in the bushes outside. Now Dart has been installing vending machine lockers.

We go through metal detectors and are frisked by guards; their manner is severe but not rude and I get the impression that so long as you immediately do exactly what they say it goes smoothly, but that any hesitation or resistance might invite rougher treatment.

We give our names, wait more, then are ushered into a long room, 15 at a time, with stools bolted to the floor. Fifteen prisoners in sand-colored jail garb emerge on the other side of the Plexiglas. It’s loud and hard to hear. The jail used to use phones, but those were destroyed by angry inmates and visitors. Now there is a round red metal plate, the holes staggered to keep drinking straws filled with cocaine from being pushed through.

His son, gaunt, his head closely sheared, is all jangly intensity — I expected to watch him and his dad talk, but he wants to talk to me, a compressed stream of complaint and indignation about the jail. Next to us, a mother puts a toddler on the counter and the girl presses her hands flat against the glass.

That’s another issue Dart grapples with — there can be a child at one spot, a profanity-laced tirade at the next, and a woman holding up her shirt to flash her breasts at a third.

“There are loads of kids there,” said Dart, proud father of five kids. “And a strong part of me says that’s not a good environment for any child. I don’t want kids seeing this stuff. The other side is, if they’re connecting with their father, that’s a good thing, too. We can’t do it any other way because we have so many visitors, so many prisoners. You want to make it better. I’m struggling how to pull that off.”

Dart would like remote video visits, to save families the trip, but “there’s no money.”

The next court date for Neal Tarshis’s son is Nov. 2, which means one thing. “I get to make four more visits,” he said.


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Contraband Finds Its Way Into Regional Jails

Its not just contraband cell phones that are smuggled into prisons. This article describes the many contraband items found in jail and the methods used to smuggle them in.

Suboxone strips hidden under stamps or in the seal of an envelope. Necklaces made out of garbage bags. Toothbrushes and plastic spoons sharpened into weapons. Tobacco or drugs smuggled in bodily cavities, thrown over the prison fence, or left at a public location where prisoners can pick it up while at the doctor’s office or on work detail.

Contraband finds its way into regional jails in a variety of ways, and officers at the Sullivan County Jail must search for it daily.

“Every day it’s always something,” Sgt. Gordon Light said. “There are 700-some inmates, they’re always making something.”

He said anything that can’t be bought in the commissary or that isn’t given to them when they get into jail is contraband.

“It’s a safety issue,” he said. “We want to keep everybody in here – the staff and the inmates – safe.”

Prisoners are searched when first brought into the jail, Light said, and all mail is searched before it is distributed to the jail’s residents.

When Sherry Martin, the officer who searches the mail, finds something illegal in a letter, she tries to track down its sender. But, she said, often those people use fake names or addresses so they don’t get caught.

“Suboxone strips are the most common,” she said of incoming contraband. “We find a lot of tobacco.”

Once in a bubble envelope she found a needle, she said, and now takes all mail out of those envelopes before handing it over.

She also takes off all stamps and checks between the glued-together pieces of birthday cards. Singing birthday cards are gutted and the musical mechanism taken out.

“They can’t have Polaroid pictures because they can slit them” open and hide drugs behind the photos, she said.

And, if the paper in a letter looks like it has been wet, she said, sometimes that indicates it has been dipped in acid. The recipient of the letter will then chew up the letter to get a high, she said. Or, pills have been broken open, made into a paste, and rubbed into greeting cards.

Martin said she sometimes reads the letters, if they look suspicious to her.

“I scan them – we find out information about what’s going on in the cell, they usually will tell in their letters,” she said.

The drugs are a safety hazard in the cells, said the jail’s health administrator, Penny Tester.

“You can overdose on them,” she said. “I haven’t had anybody overdose on Suboxone that I know of yet. If they come in and say they’ve been on it, I send them to be checked.”

She said another health risk as the result of contraband is tattoos prisoners put on each other, using makeshift tattoo guns made of plastic spoons and staples, or ink pens and paperclips.

“Skin infection is a problem,” she said. “They don’t have an antiseptic; they don’t have the proper salve to put on it. They get bar soap – that’s not an antibacterial soap; you’re not supposed to wash tattoos with it.”

Crayons, markers and colored pencils are considered contraband items at the jail because the pigment is used for tattoo ink, Light said.

Jewelry found is often made of trash bags, he said, fashioned into necklaces, bracelets and chains. Some of the jewelry features religious symbols, while others have names of loved ones etched in.

“They’re pretty creative,” he said. “They’ve got all the time to sit there.”

Light said the incentive for making contraband items such as jewelry or homemade shanks out of toothbrushes varies.

Sometimes, he said, people who are good at making jewelry can trade their wares for items from the commissary – a honeybun or a T-shirt – if they don’t get money for the commissary.

Tester said the introduction of drugs and tobacco into the prison system brings an array of other problems into the jail.

“They have fights over the tobacco, and sell for commissary,” she said.

Light said officers at the jail perform random checks of prisoners and of their cells to locate contraband items.

“They’re always looking for a hiding spot,” he said. “It’s a game between them and us – hide and seek.”


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Ky. Man Faces 600 Charges For Calls From Jail

Its not just smuggled cell phones in prisons that can cause problems. This case shows how even approved telecommunications services in prisons can be used for inappropriate purposes.

A central Kentucky man faces 600 criminal counts charging he made phone calls from his jail cell to a girl younger than 16 who he is accused of raping.

A district judge on Wednesday sent the commonwealth’s case against 29-year-old Steven Smith to a Madison County grand jury.

Court records show Smith was charged on July 26 with prohibited use of an electronic communication system to procure a minor in a sex offense.

Madison County Detention Center Maj. Faye Winkler told the Lexington Herald-Leader that Smith allegedly used a phone card bought through the jail commissary to make the calls.

Valetta Browne, who was appointed to defend Smith in the rape case, was in court Thursday morning and did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Berea Police Department Sgt. Detective Lee Ann Boyle said the calls were made from Sept. 1 to July 14 and were recorded. Boyle said she obtained a log containing a record of each call.

Smith has an Aug. 22 trial date in Madison Circuit Court on the rape charge. The indictment last year says he also faces other charges including intimidating a witness for allegedly threatening the girl and her family “with bodily harm or death if they aided law enforcement in his prosecution.”

Court records show he also faced charges of terroristic threatening, being a persistent felony offender for second-degree escape in Fayette County and receiving stolen property and theft in Jefferson County.

Smith rejected a plea agreement last year on the charges because he objected to the description of the terroristic-threatening charge, which would have been dismissed along the persistent felony offender charge.

All charges were later reinstated.

Smith is lodged in the Madison County jail. His next court date in the rape case is Aug. 11.


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Judge Calls For A New Look At Jail Guard Rules

Perhaps Bexar County Jail should re-examine its policy on allowing guards to bring in food, a judge suggested this week as two ex-jailers were convicted in separate courtrooms for smuggling contraband.

State District Judge Sid Harle made the comment Monday as he sentenced former jailer William Douglas Hemphill, 33, to five years’ deferred adjudication for smuggling a cell phone to an inmate in a box of ramen noodles.

Two months earlier, Harle had sentenced ex-jailer Robert Falcon to six years in prison for trying to smuggle heroin to inmates in barbacoa tacos. And jurors Tuesday convicted former jailer Alfred Casas of aiding an escape attempt by smuggling hacksaw blades in tacos.

These are older incidents just now getting adjudicated, said Deputy Chief Roger Dovalina, who oversees the jail. The few bad apples have been fired and arrested, he said, and he doesn’t remember any new cases arising in the past couple of years.

“We are looking at different options, but it has been difficult” to bar jailers from bringing their own food because they don’t get lunch breaks like regular employees, Dovalina said.

Accepting bribes is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. But in exchange for an earlier no-contest plea, prosecutors Monday instead pursued a lesser charge against Hemphill of possessing a prohibited substance in a correctional facility. Hemphill, who now works for a box manufacturer in Louisiana, can’t work in law enforcement in Texas again.

Jailers searched inmate cells in July 2008 and found the phone in the cell of Nathan Knowles, 28, who was awaiting trial on drug and theft charges.

“Another inmate told me that if I get cool with Officer Hemphill, he would bring me a cell phone,” Knowles said in a written statement.

In a letter of resignation, Hemphill admitted bringing the phone but said it was only after Knowles threatened the jailer’s family and his girlfriend.

“I started to blow it off until he started naming my parents’ street and the details of my car,” he wrote.

If there was a threat, Hemphill never reported it, as jail policy requires, authorities said.

A smuggled phone could be used to threaten witnesses or for ongoing criminal conduct, said Adriana Biggs, chief of the district attorney’s white-collar crimes division.


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