Lawsuit challenges the high cost of calling from jail

May 4th, 2018

The Boston Globe
May 4, 2018
By Maria Cramer

For the 95-year-old mother of one inmate, the high costs of taking phone calls from the Bristol County House of Correction forced her to choose between paying medical bills and talking to her son.

Pearson is among four plaintiffs, two of them inmates, who have sued Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson and Securus Technologies Inc., a Texas-based company that provides phone services for inmates across the country, over the high phone rates. The lawsuit alleges that the sheriff office’s contract with Securus represented an illegal kickback scheme that has nearly doubled the cost of calls made from county jails.

The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday by lawyers representing prisoners and consumer rights, alleges that between August 2011 and June 2013, Securus paid Hodgson’s office $1.7 million in exchange for an exclusive contract to provide phone services to inmates. It currently pays the sheriff’s office $820,000 a year.

The company offsets the high cost of the contract by overcharging friends, lawyers, and families of inmates who must set up accounts with Securus to get calls from their loved ones, according to the lawsuit.

“We’re hoping this [case] establishes a principle that these kinds of kickbacks should be illegal everywhere,” said Bonnie Tenneriello, a staff attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services.

Read more…

Read the press release here.

Read the complaint here.

Massachusetts Sees Highest Number Of Inmate Suicides Since 2014

March 21st, 2018

WGBH and New England Center for Investigative Reporting
March 19, 2018
By Chris Burrell and Jenifer McKim

Fourteen inmates died by suicide in Massachusetts prisons and jails in 2017, the highest such number of deaths since 2014, according to state and county data.

Those who died include four who hanged themselves in state prisons and 10 who died in county jails that together house about 20,000 prisoners, according to data collected by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Bonnie Tenneriello, a senior attorney from Prisoners’ Legal Services in Boston, said more needs to be done to protect troubled inmates. She says the state lacks standards for how the county jails are run.

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Bristol County Report On Inmate Suicides Leaves Out Key Details

March 19th, 2018

WGBH and New England Center for Investigative Reporting
March 18, 2018
By Chris Burrell and Jenifer McKim

Nine months ago, Kellie Pearson was driving in Fall River when she got a frantic call from her daughter telling her to call the Bristol County jail immediately. Pearson dialed and got an officer at the jail.

“I knew,” said Pearson in a recent interview. “When she got on the phone, she’s like, ‘Are you driving?’ And I said, ‘I am.’ She said, ‘I need you to pull over.’ I said ‘No, no.’”

Pearson’s fiancée, Michael Ray, the father of her teenage daughter, was in that jail for 20 months, awaiting trial on charges of armed robbery.

“And I just said, ‘Please, please tell me, is Michael, OK?’ And she said, ‘I’m sorry ma’am, he’s gone.’ I just screamed this guttural scream.”

Ray was the most recent suicide in the Bristol County House of Correction.

Bonnie Tenneriello, an attorney with Boston-based Prisoners’ Legal Services, questions Bristol’s internal assessment.

“Any report on suicide that was authored by jail administrators — they have a vested interest in minimizing the problems,” she said. “An outside investigation is really a much tougher look.”

In January, Tenneriello helped three current inmates with mental illness file a lawsuit against Hodgson’s department, claiming they were subjected to harsh and humiliating punishment instead of getting treatment.

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Hepatitis C Drugs Save Lives, but Sick Prisoners Aren’t Getting Them

March 15th, 2018

March 15, 2018
New York Times
By Ted Alcorn

Any national campaign to eliminate hepatitis C, an insidious virus that kills tens of thousands of Americans a year, would almost certainly involve prisons.

One in seven state inmates are believed to be infected, and the regimented environment of a prison has its advantages when it comes to screening and treatment.

The problem is, the drugs that effectively cure the disease are priced in the tens of thousands of dollars — far more than prisons can pay. In 2015, state corrections departments were treating less than 1 percent of those inmates known to be infected, a survey found.

Now courts have begun ordering states to provide the drugs regardless of cost, prompting an unusual showdown over how pharmaceutical companies set prices for the treatments.

In at least nine states, prisoners have filed lawsuits arguing that withholding drugs constitutes deliberate indifference to their dire medical needs, violating a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Last week, Massachusetts settled a lawsuit by agreeing to give all prisoners in advanced stages of the disease access to drugs.

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Prisoners’ rights group nears deal on hepatitis C tests

March 12th, 2018

March 10, 2018
Boston Herald
By O’Ryan Johnson

Bay State convicts could soon have better access to hepatitis C tests and treatments after a prisoners’ rights group reached a legal settlement with the Department of Correction.

The National Lawyers Guild, along with Prisoners’ Legal Services, sued the Massachusetts Department of Correction for failing to provide hepatitis C treatments to prisoners. The lawsuit claimed that by failing to give inmates medical treatment, the department was violating their civil rights.

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