Prison Talk

We firmly believe that even though a prisoner's body is locked up, their mind can always be free to travel the world and learn about anything they are interested through the magic or books.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Tyranny Of Prison Phone Charges: 'Inmates Charged Five Times Usual Rate

Sobering piece in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, headlined, ‘Talk is anything but cheap for phone calls from Pennsylvania’s prison. Phone calls from the outside do more than keep prisoners entertained, researchers say. They’ve actually been shown to keep them from re-offending, maintaining family connections that prove vital when inmates leave prison. So Ms. Ankrom doesn’t understand why her friend pays $5 for every 15-minute call, five times what it costs her to call anywhere in the country on a pre-paid cell phone. Neither does the Federal Communications Commission, which is looking into the issue. “The people who are in prison are already struggling,” she said. “I can understand them being charged. But why charge so much?” While the per-minute price of the average phone plan drops every year — approaching zero, in the case of unlimited plans — prisoners are paying exorbitant rates to call their loved ones. To dial an out-of-state number, an inmate in a Pennsylvania state prison pays $9.35 for a 15-minute call. At the Allegheny County Jail, they pay $10.65. The small group of telecom companies that sells phone service to prisons says costs are driven up by the expensive security capabilities demanded by their clients. But advocates — and perhaps the FCC, which held a workshop earlier this month to discuss the issue — instead blame state and local governments, which usually take a sizable cut of prison phone profits. “When 50 cents on every dollar goes back to the county, that doubles the cost of the call,” said Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative in Northampton, Mass. “The people who end up paying the bill are the people who are locked up.” In 2012, Pennsylvania took in $6.9 million as its cut of prisoner phone call charges. Slightly less than half went to buy amenities for inmates; the rest went to the state’s general fund. The state’s justification for the insanely high charges is that its deal with Mobile, Ala.-based Global Tel*Link ”allows jailers to monitor and record prisoner conversations.” But that seems extremely dubious, or at least indicative that there’s almost no competition when it comes to providing necessary private services such as phone utilities to prisons. Numerous sources at the Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence or OSII — the internal affairs department of Pennsylvania’s prison system — have told me that phone monitoring amounts to officers at a switchboards listening in to and recording calls that might involve conspiracy. How does listening in to a conversation amount to a 400+ percent increase in charges? It’s anyone’s guess. (Though maybe it has something to do with a 50 percent commission rate). As the article notes — and the Prison Policy Initiative has repeatedly suggested — the FCC is looking into the issue. But perhaps ambitious business people should be looking into it, too. Just think: even if some company gouged prisoners (who make as little as $0.19 per hour) at a rate of 2-to-1, they’d still be able to halve the amount Global Tel*Link charges these folks. Corporate America, are you listening? Perhaps you should be. ——— Follow me on Twitter @ssttrroouudd, where I post frequent links to fascinating stories such as this one. If you want to chat directly, I’m at stroudjournalism [at]

Friday, January 11, 2013

Inmate testifies he saw Woods Run guard assault prisoners more than 20 times

An inmate testified Thursday that he saw former state prison guard Harry Nicoletti assault other inmates on more than 20 occasions during the six months he was a block worker at the Woods Run prison. Patrick Hogan, 32, a convicted robber, said he didn‘t want to participate in Nicoletti‘s assaults but for the most part didn‘t object to the corrections officer abusing sex offenders either. Hogan said he went along with it because he didn‘t want to lose the single cell, cable television and extra food that comes from doing regular chores as a block worker. He said he also didn‘t want to become one of Nicoletti‘s targets. “I absolutely would not want to ever be on the bad side of someone who could do anything to me,” Hogan testified in the state‘s prosecution of Nicoletti. Prosecutors charged Nicoletti, 61, of Coraopolis, with 89 counts that include involuntary deviant sexual assault. In the first day of testimony in his trial, Department of Corrections investigator Gary Hiler testified that Nicoletti singled out sex offenders — particularly ones convicted of assaulting minors — and homosexuals for physical, mental and sexual abuse. Assistant District Attorney Jon Pittman called Hogan as a state‘s witness to confirm other inmates‘ testimony. Under cross-examination, Hogan said he would have refused to testify if Nicoletti were a fellow inmate instead of a guard, adding that he didn‘t seek out investigators to become a witness. In the past two years while the state investigated, Hogan said he had his parole revoked, spent 56 days in restricted housing — also known as solitary confinement or the “hole” — and generally had his life uprooted. “I don‘t want to sit on this stand,” he said. “I don‘t want to be here right now.” Hogan also testified that Nicoletti would target inmates by replacing their regular meals with “alternative protein” meals consisting of bean burger, bean paste and other items that Hogan contended were nearly inedible. “It was nasty,” he said. Nicoletti mixed cigarette ashes and spit with the food, Hogan said. Another inmate testified Thursday that Nicoletti put him in restricted housing for 21 days after he refused to physically assault another inmate because the other inmate was significantly larger than him. During his stay, Nicoletti also sexually assaulted him several times, the inmate said. The Tribune-Review does not name accusers in sexual-assault cases. Testimony in the trial is expected to last two to three weeks. Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or Read more: Follow us: @triblive on Twitter | triblive on Facebook

Handcuff love' sends Georgia man to prison

RINGGOLD, Ga. — A north Georgia man who handcuffed himself to a female Taco Bell co-worker has been sentenced to serve four years in prison. The Rome News-Tribune reports that 25-year-old Jason Earl Dean of Dalton handcuffed himself to the 18-year-old woman in August 2011 in an attempt to convince her to go on a date with him. Lookout Mountain Assistant District Attorney Alan Norton says a Catoosa County Superior Court judge sentence Dean to four years in prison followed by six years on probation. Norton says Dean is also not allowed to have any contact with the victim or her family. She called for help, and several other employees ran outside and talked Dean into letting her go. “Based on what came out during the hearing, this was a very fair sentence,” Norton told the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. “There was testimony put forth about a previous incident some years ago in Murray County.” As for an apology from Dean, Norton said, “I don’t think there ever was one.” Dean and the girl were part of the crew that reopened the Taco Bell off Old Alabama Highway near Interstate 75 in July nine weeks after a massive tornado damaged it and many other structures there in April 2011. Dean had been trying to go out with the woman for several weeks, and employees had changed her shift so she could avoid him, Ringgold Police Chief Dan Bilbrey said at the time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of a fired guard at the center of a sexual and physical abuse investigation at a Pittsburgh state prison and his attorney said the man is "pleased we're finally getting a chance to face his accusers." Harry Nicoletti, 61, of Coraopolis, faces the most — and most serious — charges of the four guards who are standing trial separately for the alleged abuse in the F Block, or intake area, at the century-old State Correctional Institution in Pittsburgh. Nicoletti has been fired from the prison where he allegedly sexually assaulted and physically abused more than 20 inmates, mostly those serving time for child molestation. But Nicoletti also allegedly targeted inmates he thought were gay, regardless of their crimes. Nicoletti has called the charges "made up" and his attorney, Steve Colafella, said the accusers are not those typically deemed credible. "Obviously, we're dealing with not only a number of convicted felons, we're dealing with a number of convicted child sex offenders," Colafella said during a break in Tuesday's jury selection. Nine jurors have been picked and opening statements are expected to begin Thursday. The jury must decide whether Nicoletti is guilty of 89 counts involving 21 inmates who have accused him of physical or sexual abuse — including institutional sexual assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Perhaps the most heinous allegations involve a transsexual male inmate who developed female breasts due to hormone treatments. Nicoletti fondled that inmate before raping him, while shouting racial and sexual epithets, including calling him a "weird freaky monkey," the criminal complaint said. Nicoletti is also charged with intimidating other inmates into silence, ordering or coercing other guards to mistreat the prisoners — including contaminating their food and bedding with urine and other bodily fluids — and then working with his colleagues to cover up the alleged abuse. The investigation has spawned several lawsuits, including two filed by eight guards, including Nicoletti, who lost their jobs or were demoted for allegedly participating in the abuse or failing to report it. The guards contend the allegations were trumped up and coaxed out of inmates by investigators with the state Department of Corrections. Seven former inmates, including some who will testify against Nicoletti and the other guards in criminal court, are suing over their alleged mistreatment. And three former prison administrators who lost their jobs during the investigation have sued claiming they were fired for being whistleblowers about the abuse. A judge has tossed that lawsuit, but they're appealing to have it reinstated. The judge overseeing Nicoletti's case also presided over another guard's trial last month. Tory Kelly, 41, of Aliquippa, was convicted on four counts including felony witness intimidation against one inmate, but had 10 other charges based on allegations by three other inmates thrown out. His sentencing is scheduled for March 20. Two other guards are scheduled for trial later this year. Nicoletti was arrested in September 2011, five months after he and several guards were suspended without explanation during what would later be revealed to be a county grand jury probe. "We're anxious to start this trial, it's been almost two years now," Colafella said. "He's certainly anxious to move forward and have his day in court." Read more: