“Born in prison, she inspires others with hope.”

Eagle Rare Life Award Nominee


Deborah Jiang-Stein was born in a prison, heroin-exposed at birth, and that alone begins her story of this nomination for a “Lead a Rare Life” winner in America. In spite of facing the risks of developmental delays from these beginnings, she rose out of her roots as an inspiring leader with courage and innovation. Today, she’s founder of The unPrison Project (www.unprisonproject.org) a charity that works with women and girls in prisons and detention centers across the country. She advocates for life skills and literacy as part of this national program to help to reduce incarceration rates.
Deborah carries an abiding dedication and deep passion for incarcerated women, especially mothers in prisons, and for their children left behind. To date, she’s reached over 12,000 people in prisons. She uses her personal compelling story to inspire and lead others to turn pain into purpose. Her ability to go where others cannot, both physically and emotionally, draws attention to issues we desperately need to notice: the rise of incarceration of women has risen over 800% in a 20 year span, and most women in prisons are sentenced for nonviolent behaviors. Most have left under-age children behind.
For many incarcerated mothers, the story of Deborah’s birth mother in prison is their story. Deborah’s story gives her an entrée into prisons in ways others can’t. She shares her gifts of writing and story telling in prisons because she believes in the potential of each person to discover their own strengths and gifts.
Deborah’s rare beginnings puts her in a unique position to advance the conversation about people living in the margins, especially those in prisons and detention centers, and especially women and girls. She shares her story in the memoir, Prison Baby, published by Beacon Press. She has also collected interviews with women in prisons for the book, Women Behind Bars, from Shebooks.
Please vote for Deborah to continue using her rare lifestory of inspiration and courage. In doing so, The unPrison Project will benefit from this award and will reach many thousands of women and girls in prisons with life skills programs and tools for literacy, education, and personal empowerment. Your vote will reach them personally. Thank you.

click HERE to vote and share!!

Important Alert: Fight the return of the new prison censorship rules

Originally posted on Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity:

PHSS header

We called for your help in June,  and we’re calling for it again.  Last month, California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitations (CDCR) issued revisions to its proposed “obscene materials,” i.e. censorship regulations published earlier this year.This was in response to hundreds of public comments submitted to CDCR by CURB members and members of the public. CDCR promised to go back to the drawing board, saying the public had misunderstood its intent.This shows our collective people power! Yet, the revisions recently made by the Department are superficial and fail to address the serious concerns so many of us raised in our public comments.

If the proposed regulations are approved, CDCR will be able to permanently ban any publications it considers contraband, including political publications and correspondence that should be protected by First Amendment constitutional rights.

The proposed regulations are designed to:

  1. Censor writings that educate the public about…

View original 162 more words

Save Adam Worster

Our mission is to align the drug policy, in Texas and at the federal level, with the standards of our American Medical Association.   The first step in this process is changing the way we think about alcoholics and drug addicts.  The American Medical Association considers alcoholism a disease and supports a classification that includes both physical and mental components.

This being the case we have to look beyond the restricted thinking of those who subscribe to the belief that prison is an option for non-violent drug addicts and alcoholics.  If alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases, why are they criminalized?

Why do our laws turn non-violent alcoholics and drug addicts into career criminals that are subject to the, mostly, unavoidable collisions with prison-rape, physical and emotional torture, and degradation in every way possible?

Did you know that Texas is releasing convicted killers due to overcrowded prisons?

Are you familiar with the story of David Port?   —-> http://tinyurl.com/lewcf82

Are you aware that we are handing out 25 year to life prison sentences for habitual DUI offenders (3 or more)?

EVEN if alcoholism was not considered a disease that requires treatment by our medical community, which it is — it is still unthinkable to release violent criminals so that we can incarcerate more alcoholics and drug addicts.

Blood is on our hands, and it is time we recognize that fact.  If our goal is to rehabilitate an alcoholic,  then we need more long-term treatment plans for the mentally ill alcoholic & drug addict, not more prisons….

Over half of the prison population is made up of non-violent alcohol & drug related "offenders"

Here are the facts:

Josh Brent, Dallas Cowboy’s lineman, was charged with intoxication manslaughter in 2012. His attorney’s complained because his bond was $500K. Josh Brent was released on bond within hours of being charged, and is currently on probation.

FAST FORWARD to 2014: He is being reinstated into the NFL, and begins work after week 6.

Allow me to recap, Josh Brent had 17 alcoholic beverages (witness corroborated), drove home, killed a man, paid a fine, got out of jail the same day, and is now returning to the NFL to make millions of dollars and be glorified on our Television sets.

Now let me tell you a story you haven’t heard.

Adam Worster, a friend of mine, was arrested for his 3rd DWI roughly 1 year ago — here in Houston (Montgomery County).  Each offense was non-violent, meaning NOBODY WAS INJURED!!!  The state of Texas gave Adam a plea deal of 40 YEARS IN PRISON!!! He is awaiting trial in Montgomery County and the least amount of prison-time that the judge can grant my friend based on our law is 25 YEARS!!!!

My friend is not a Dallas Cowboy. He’s not a professional athlete. He doesn’t have millions of dollars to throw at a case.  He is also not a killer, like David Port, and there are no media events covering this atrocity.

I’ve got a problem with this, and I aim to do something about it. My friend is facing the rest of his life in prison because he COULD HAVE hurt someone, while Josh Brent is reinstated to making millions of dollars per year after killing a man.



My friend is an alcoholic , not a criminal. Regardless of what you believe with regard to this matter — he needs and wants our help. Alcoholism and drug addiction are NOT CRIMES. You can not, in any convincing manner, lead me to believe that driving a car after drinking beyond the legal limit is cause for capital punishment (because that’s exactly what this is).

My friend is losing his life because of a non-violent incident involving drinking & driving — while the rest of America watches a Josh Brent ( a 2 time drunk driver, who killed a man in the act, violated the terms of his probation by failing 2 drug tests) return to society because he paid off our elected officials.

As I was sitting here watching a bad NFL game today I became overwhelmed with disgust for situation at hand. Why is Josh Brent reinstated to making millions for drinking 17 alcoholic beverages, driving home, and killing a man? Why is my friend facing the rest of his life in prison for the crime called “just not having enough money”?!?!



Please follow this link and SIGN THE PETITION TO REFORM OUR SYSTEM !


“A Girl Hung Herself Yesterday”: Deaths in Custody at California Institution for Women


Via Solitary Watch

Shadae "Dae Dae" Schmidt, who died in CIW's solitary confinement unit in February.

On July 30, 2014, Margarita Murugia was found hanging in her solitary confinement cell at the California Institution for Women (CIW). “She was there for her own protection, not because she did something,” wrote April Harris, a woman currently incarcerated at CIW. ” Apparently her mom was dying of cancer and they refused to let her see her mom. She tried to kill herself with every denied request. She finally did it.”

According to advocacy group California Coalition for Women Prisoners, CIW has had seven deaths since the start of 2014. In comparison, the prison had five deaths in 2013 and one in 2012.

Shadae Schmidt, better known as DaeDae to her friends, was another of these seven deaths. On March 24, 2014, Schmidt was found dead in her cell. In February 2014, while in the Security Housing Unit, or SHU, she suffered a stroke. She was taken to the hospital where she received medical attention. According to women inside, she was returned to isolation in her SHU cell less than three weeks later. The following month, she was found dead. Hers was the third death within three months at the prison.

Krys Shelley and DaeDae Schmidt had spent 10 years at Valley State Prison for Women before Shelley’s release in May 2012. The following year, Valley State was converted to a men’s prison; the women were moved to the Central California Women’s Facility across the street or to CIW in Corona.

Schmidt was transferred to CIW where she began complaining to friends and family that she was receiving the wrong medications. Then she was sent to the prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU). Like the SHU in men’s prisons, women spend up to 23 ½ hours locked in their cells. No one is sure why Schmidt was sent to the SHU, but it doesn’t surprise Shelley. “DaeDae was sometimes too smart for her own good,” Shelley recalled. At Valley State, Schmidt would be sent to the SHU for talking back to an officer or for fighting to protect other women, she said. Schmidt was also sent to the SHU on allegations that she possessed tobacco, which was banned from California prisons in 2006. “If they hear you have tobacco, they’ll search you, they’ll search your room, then they’ll lock you up and investigate,” Shelley, who had also spent time in the SHU pending investigations, explained. “They don’t let you out until they’ve finished their investigation.” Schmidt was never actually found guilty of tobacco possession.

Shelley spoke with Schmidt several months before her death. She said that their conversation was full of laughter. “We always talked,” she said. “We were always laughing.” The next time she heard anything about her friend, it was news of her death.

Deaths in Lockdown

Dana Simas at the press office for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) insists that the SHU is not solitary confinement, pointing to the fact that, in July 2014, only four of the 96 women in the SHU were in cells by themselves. The other 92 were double-celled. (The number of people in single cells rose to six of the ninety-three women in SHU in August 2014.) Women are allowed out of the SHU for mental health appointments, medical appointments, and library visits. They are allowed to go to the yard, which has individual holding cells where they can exercise and talk, although the cells make it impossible for them to touch each other.

But Pam Fadem with California Coalition for Women Prisoners disagrees. “A year ago it was [solitary] until the prison was too crowded and everyone began getting a cellmate.” Having a cellmate while on lockdown has sometimes increased risks of violence. She described “Wendy,” who had been placed in the SHU for her own safety while at Valley State Prison. When she was moved to CIW, she was placed in general population where she was physically attacked three times within two months. She was then placed in a solo cell in SHU. As the prison became more crowded, CDCR placed another person in her cell. “She tried to refuse since it was an unknown person to her that felt like a threat,” Fadem explained. But the person was moved into her cell, “Wendy” was promptly attacked and only then was the second person moved out. Double-celling individuals while keeping them locked down in their cells for 22 to 23 hours a day is considered by advocates to be another form of isolated confinement, and not an acceptable alternative to solitary.

Deaths Outside of Solitary

Not all of the deaths have been in solitary. The first death, of 29-year-old Sheena Crigler, occurred on February 8th. On February 24th, Alicia Thompson, known as Gypsy to her friends, became the year’s second death. Prison officials told Thompson’s mother that she had committed suicide. Her mother, however, insists that her daughter did not commit suicide. She told Solitary Watch that her daughter’s body had no signs of hanging trauma, but did have bruising around her left temple. She and her grandchildren had spoken with her daughter three days earlier, on Friday, February 21st. “She called every week,” her mother said. “She seemed happy.”

DaeDae Schmidt’s death in the SHU was the third. Two weeks later, on March 26th, Stacey McCannon, whom friends called Grandpa Smiley, fell off a ladder, hit her head and died shortly after. According to women inside, that same day, eighty-year-old Delores Emmons died. In addition to these six deaths, women inside the prison report one other death.

Eight months after her daughter’s death, Alicia Thompson’s mother is still waiting for the coroner’s report. The coroner’s office told Solitary Watch that it has not yet determined the cause of death. “We have a year to file the report. Cases can take six months or more,” explained Pamela Sokolik. “We’re not keeping it from her, but the case is not yet closed.”

Thompson’s mother is raising Thompson’s three children, an eleven-year-old daughter and two sons, ages eight and four. She’s heard about the other deaths in the prison. “There’s too many deaths. I don’t understand why there hasn’t been an investigation yet,” she said.

Attempted Suicides

During July and August, four women unsuccessfully attempted suicide. According to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, at least two of the women had been housed in the SHU.

According to Dana Simas, this number of suicides, both attempted and actual, is not unusually high. But, she acknowledges, “we’re dealing with a population in all sorts of crisis. Some are dealing with the fact that they’ll never get out of prison. Some may have gotten bad news from their family, had a bad encounter with someone else or just be having a bad day. Unlike people on the outside, they can’t remove themselves from the situation.” She also acknowledges that the prison environment can exacerbate already-present mental health issues.

Simas told Solitary Watch that mental health clinicians are available at all times within the SHU. “All they would have to do is request to see a mental health clinician,” she explained. In the SHU, staff are required to conduct welfare checks every fifteen minutes. During each check, staff must be able to see each person, note their actions and look for evidence of self-harm. Staff members have the authority to move a person to a mental health crisis bed.

However, women have told the California Coalition for Women Prisoners that, while clinicians check on them daily, they do not do so every fifteen minutes. They see a doctor twice a week, but are locked into a cage for their counseling session. They are unsure whether the doctor is a psychiatrist, psychologist, medical doctor or other type of clinician. Women also report that the doctors rotate often, making it hard to establish rapport.

Simas told Solitary Watch that if a person has attempted suicide, she is transferred to a mental health crisis bed. She is placed in a suicide prevention room and kept under 24-hour watch by staff. Release from the crisis bed comes only after mental health professionals, which include a psychiatric technician, a psychologist and, if medication is required, nursing staff, have conducted an evaluation and determined that the person is no longer at risk of self-harming.

What’s Being Done?

Citing privacy laws, Simas was not able to comment on Murugia’s suicide or what steps had been taken after each of her unsuccessful attempts. “The way CDCR approaches suicide is very serious. We will continue to improve our policies, our trainings and our responses,” she stated.

Women inside say otherwise. Jane Dorotik notes that, while CDCR has policies around providing mental health care and addressing mental health crises, these policies are rarely put into practice. She recounted one instance in which mental health staff turned away a person who needed help:

One day, Shirley brought a troubled woman over to me. The woman was twitching her leg, having difficulty just sitting still and focusing to talk to me. She was able to tell me, between incoherent mumblings, that she was hearing voices. She couldn’t get the voices out of her head and she was afraid of what they might tell her to do. She was thinking of cutting into her head ot make the voices stop.

I walked her over to the health clinic and explained the urgency to the staff. They responded in condescending and dispassionate terms. ‘We won’t see her without a pass from her housing unit.’ I walked into her unit (going ‘out of bounds’ myself) and spoke to her housing staff to alert them to the urgency. They responded, ‘Go away, you are out-of-bounds and can be written up. We know how to handle this.’

The next day I saw the woman walking around the yard mumbling to herself and twitching her leg. Half of her head was shaved and she had lacerations all through her scalp. She had obviously tried to quiet the voices on her own, to no one’s great alarm.

The woman Dorotik described attempted suicide on August 1, 2014, the day after Murugia was found hanging in her cell. She was sent to the prison’s Special Confinement Unit (SCU), a mental health unit, where she was also prescribed medications. She also participated in programs, such as self-esteem, substance abuse, stress management and reading enhancement, as well as daily group talk sessions. She reported that the programs provided her with relief from the constant hopelessness of the SHU. But after thirty days, she was declared stable and returned to the SHU. There are no group talk sessions in the SHU.

Days after Murugia’s suicide, Dorotik said, “CIW continues to struggle with how to implement policies to increase safety, prevent suicides, intercept drug trafficking and reduce fights. They try and eliminate blind corners and other external control measures. They never address the root of the problem—overcrowding [and] depressed hopeless women with no clear vision of the future.”

Horrifying Video: Prison Guards Callously Laugh as Mentally Ill Man Dies in Front of Them

By Cassandra Rules of The Free Thought Project

Heartbreaking enough, this is not some historic footage of a Nazi death camp. This is modern day America.


We see Mr. Lopez struggling to breath for hours, and then, finally, we have an unobstructed view as Mr. Lopez takes his last breath, dying, half-naked on the cold concrete floor of a prison cell – isolated and alone with no Defendant caring whether he lived or died”

A lawsuit has been filed in the March 17, 2013 death of Christopher Lopez at the San Carlos Correctional Facility.

Along with this lawsuit, attorney David Lane has released a horrific and heartbreaking compilation of footage from the hours leading to Lopez’ death.

The lawsuit begins-

On March 17, 2013, in full view of most of the Defendants, a shackled and stripped Christopher Lopez died alone and ignored, on the cold concrete floor of a cell at the San Carlos Correctional Facility. His death could have been easily prevented by most of the defendants had any one of them simply picked up a phone and called for medical help. Instead, the Defendants, all employees of the Colorado Department of Corrections, ultimately made what could pass as a documentary film on how to ignore the obvious and serious medical needs of a dying prisoner for hours until the very last breath of life leaves his body.

In the 47 minute long video, the prison guards laugh, joke, and mock this helpless and shackled schizophrenic man as he dies alone on the floor in front of them.


The incident was triggered by a sodium deficiency, which may have been a reaction to the psychotropic medication he was taking.

“The first video shows Christopher Lopez lying face down on the floor of his cell, naked from the waist up, and the staff is yelling in the cuff slot.

They’re saying, ‘Come to the slot and cuff up or we’re not going to help you with your medical issue.’ But you can see Lopez is virtually unconscious. He’s trying to lift his head but he’s not strong enough to do it. Then they gear up the force team and go in. But first, they talk about pepper-spraying him because he’s not complying with their demands, even though some low-level guard says he has a medical issue. The only reason they don’t pepper-spray him is because they’re short-staffed.” Lane explained.

The guards entered the cell dressed in full riot gear and dragged him out. They told him to stop resisting, even though his dying body was entirely limp.

0“Their reports about this are all part of the cover up,” Lane continued. “They say, ‘He disobeyed our order’ to make it seem like he was obstreperous when he was actually almost unconscious.”

They move him to a restraint chair with a spit hood while Lopez has a grand mal seizure.  During this time the guards talk about Walmart and their plans for the weekend.

Eventually he is removed from the chair and left chained on the floor.  A nurse finally enters, but not to provide any kind of emergency treatment. She tells Lopez, “It’s time for your psych meds” to which she receives no response from the dying man, even as she kicks him, and then injects the very drugs that may have caused this medical emergency directly into his anus.

Twenty minutes into the video we see Lopez struggling to breathe, shackled, on the floor of his cell and the officers begin to chat.

“Is it lunch already?” the guard asks, followed by inaudible conversation.

“He could swallow his teeth, I don’t care…”

At 21:30 the guard coldly proclaims, “he didn’t even piss on himself, so he’s not seizing.”

Around the 40:00 mark another disgusting conversation takes place, showing how truly sadistic these monsters in charge of people’s lives really are.

“What’s he doing now?” a female supervisor asks.

“Smells like he peed all over the place,” a man replies.

“Is he still on the floor?”


“He likes it on the floor.”

“I like him on the floor.”

“Yeah, he likes it alright when he’s on the floor.”

Laughter ensues.

“Isn’t that terrible?”

Warning- Graphic and Heartbreaking


This awful ordeal began at 3:30 in the morning, and at 9:10 a.m., Mr. Lopez took his last breath and died, shackled and face down in the intake cell with no help from the people watching him struggle.

Three employees have been fired, and five others disciplined. No criminal charges were filed.

If Fyodor Dostoyevsky was correct in stating that you can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners, this video is a very horrific display of what our society has become.  We can do better.

Read the full lawsuit here.

Via The Free Thought Project

Carl Steven: HEROIN KILLS…

carl steven


Carl Steven was born on November 7, 1974 in Glendale, California,  as Carlo Steven Krakoff. He is known for his work on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) and Teen Wolf (1985). He was married to Dawn Krakoff.

Carl played a younger version of a Leonard Nimoy character twice. First in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), as “Spock” at the age of 9, and in the television movie Never Forget (1991), he played “Mel Mermelstein” as a child, and Leonard Nimoy played him as an adult.
Steven was sentenced to 13 years in prison for armed robbery in 2010 and died on July 31, 2011, at the age of 36, of a heroin overdose while in prison in Tucson, Arizona.
The following was originally posted on imdb in February 2014. I have had the pleasure of meeting ( on line) Cynthia Krakoff who is Carl Steven’s mother. I wanted to share her and her sons story with you. Cynthia has granted me permission to do so. Please share with others. Yes we do have drugs in our prisons and despite what ALL the Department of Corrections would like you to believe- for the most part, their own staff are bringing drugs in, along with many other forms of “contraband”.

I am writing this update because of the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, due to a heroin overdose and because someone posted something about Carl being just a junkie. I would like to tell my son’s story to help you understand and to warn you about the dangers of drug addiction….

My son Carl Steven became addicted to his prescription medication Oxycontin for severe TMJ and after 2 micro surgeries. Carl was on Xanax because he was a victim of a violent car-jacking in his younger years that left him with severe panic attacks and ptsd.

Addiction is a known side-effect to these meds. Oxycontin is a horrible drug that will change who you are. Yet, it is still prescribed too freely! Carl had lost his medical insurance and was unable to proceed with his medical treatments and medically it is dangerous just to stop those kinds of medications, so Carl robbed some pharmacies for his pills, as he was so afraid of getting so sick or dying. Carl got caught because he wanted to get caught as he was so ashamed of what he had done. He came from a good and loving home.

When I first talked to Carl on the phone after his arrest, I asked him why did he confess without an attorney, and he told me it was because how could he go to God for forgiveness if he lied to the police. You see, Carl had never been arrested before in his life, never had spent a night in jail, so never in prison, and no criminal record! Carl was always a good person, a peacemaker, he didn’t like to fight, he was never in a gang,,, Just an everyday great kind of guy… Married over 10 yrs, he was a loving husband, and Carl was such a loving daddy to his only son (who had just turned 3 yrs old when he daddy died). His dad and I were blessed to be his parents… he had a great sense of humor and man… could he sing! I miss him so.

Arizona doesn’t have any kind of prison drug treatment or rehab programs, so an Arizona judge sentenced Carl to 13 yrs in prison!

When Carl finally made it to prison, it was so scary because this was our very first encounter with the prison system. In this PRISON, the inmates there taught my son how to shoot up heroin! as Carl had a PILL addiction… so he didn’t even know how to shoot it! Shortly after, my beloved son died of a heroin overdose!

I never really thought about illegal drugs being so available in prison. Carl knew nothing about heroin, just that it helped him find some peace as his guilt was immense and his time had really just started. Carl wanted to live… but the lure of illegal drugs is too strong… especially when your in a box and going to be there for years, while your child and wife live alone, no kindergarten, no walks in the park with his son, but he still wanted to be here! We all wanted him here………


I want to see things change for other parents, so that they will never have to bury their son or daughter for an Illegal Drug Overdose in prison!!! For that child/children to have a chance to get their mommy/daddy back home because the debt to society was paid and they get another chance to make better choices in their life.

I want to see lock-down drug treatment or rehab programs …. I’m trying to find the right resources!!! HEROIN IS A HORROR STORY!!! Please stay away from drugs… they are a plague on our lives and society … We need to help each other!

Thanks for reading and I hope and pray you will take heed, and because almost everyone knows someone that has a drug problem. Don’t ignore it, because it will never fix itself, do whatever you can. Do a lot of homework about the drug, because I just learned more today about heroin being such an enticing drug that makes all your emotional pain go away… a serene feeling… which I could understand would make you want to find some peace somehow being behind bars away from family!

You can contact me on FaceBook…

Cynthia Krakoff… Carl Steven’s mom

Via imdb.com



By Jessica Pishko

Nonviolent female prisoners. Image courtesy of Last Gasp


In 2011, under mounting pressure to decrease the prison population, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) created the Alternative Custody Program (ACP). It’s a program designed to forge a path for low-level female inmates to return home (under electronic surveillance), care for their children, and reintegrate into their communities. The policy is currently the subject of a lawsuit claiming that it discriminates on the basis of sex, but in theory, it seems like a prison authority might have finally gotten something right.

That’s what Cynthia thought when she appeared before the panel (called an Institution Classification Committee in CDCR lingo) after applying for ACP. After getting her paperwork straightened out and applying three times, she was told she was denied. She needed a teeth cleaning before her application could be processed.

Another woman was denied because of a computer error: Her dentistry was up to date, but a bureaucrat hadn’t changed her status, so she remained behind bars.

In the offices of California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), letters (which you can readhere) have piled high from women who want to return home to their families and repent for their crimes. But very few of the eligible inmates are given a real chance to take advantage of the opportunities that ACP promised. In one of the letters, an inmate named Anna wrote: “I know I’ve made mistakes in my life, but I’m ready for a change. Yes, I’ve been in and out of prison, but don’t only look at my record, look at what I did and all my programs.” Anna is currently in prison for identity fraud. She has not been released.

Michelle, who has four children at home, was denied ACP because of a mistake in classification—her crime was embezzlement, but it was mistakenly classified as “violent,” rendering her ineligible. Misty Rojo, the program coordinator at CCWP, has received reports from women who were denied release because they had a pit bull as a pet and because they received medication for a treatable medical condition like high blood pressure.

Before the women are released under ACP, they’re subject to a pre-release interview that includes sensitive questions about their histories of abuse and other mental anguish. The Justice Department has determined that at least half of all female inmates have been victims of physical or sexual abuse and one-third have been raped prior to incarceration, and appearing to harbor lingering psychological trauma from this abuse can prevent release. Even worse, the people asking these questions aren’t licensed therapists, according to Rojo, and they intentionally ask questions that cause the women to break down into tears and then accuse the women of being “mentally unstable,” which means they are not eligible for release.

That’s what an inmate named Theresa claimed happened to her in a letter she wrote to CCWP explaining that she “was not prepared for what took place in my ACP classification hearing.” Theresa met all of the criteria for ACP and had no disciplinary actions. She participated in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and anger management. But in her hearing she was asked about her suicide attempts as a minor as well as her childhood and adult molestation and rape. She felt blindsighted by the process and dejected at the result, which was a denial of her ACP application.

These stories help to illustrate why out of the estimated 4,000 women eligible for ACP, only 420 have been released in the three years the program has been active. (The CDCR told me that it did not keep track of how many ACP petitions were denied.) California’s prisons are overflowing—so why is the state trying to keep its women inmates behind bars?

Women are one of the fastest-growing segments of America’s prison population, and more thanhalf of these women—at least in California—are non-violent offenders. Women, along with gender-nonconforming inmates, are also some of the most vulnerable inside prison; rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence are higher among women than men. Even further, it’s estimated that 75 percent of incarcerated women are the primary caretakers of their children, meaning that their imprisonment leaves a trail of disaster for their families.

In the policy debates over California’s deplorable prison system, women’s prisons have frequently fallen by the wayside. Overcrowding leads to a range of obvious problems, from overuse of solitary confinement and more frequent lockdowns (since there are too many inmates for the staff to control) to a lack of basic supplies and unsanitary conditions. But perhaps the most severe indirect consequence of overcrowding is poor medical care for the inmates. In December 2013, a court-appointed panel of medical experts issued an independent report condemning the conditions at CCWF citing a litany of institutional deficiencies.

More shockingly, an investigation this summer by the Center for Investigative Reporting discovered that nearly 150 female inmates were given unauthorized sterilizations between 2006 and 2010 at CCWF, CIW, and Valley State. A new bill just signed by Governor Brown last month supposedly outlaws the practice once and for all.

CCWF and CIW have been the target of scrutiny for poor medical care for nearly two decades, but instead of releasing female prisoners who are unlikely to pose harm—thus, potentially alleviating some of these issues—Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a contract worth $9 million a year with GEO Group, the second-largest private prison contracting company, to take over a prison facility in McFarland, California that will house about 260 women (with an option to double its size). Press releases for the prison claim that the facility will boast services like job training, drug programs, and other therapeutic interventions, although there is no guarantee that transferred inmates will be able to continue any of their current programming.

But the move is not an auspicious one. While the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) doesn’t have the best track record, it looks like a luxury hotel compared to GEO Group, which is the subject of hundreds of lawsuits for violence, mistreatment, and poor medical care in its facilities.

In 2010, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of an epileptic Texas man who died from an untreated seizure while in solitary confinement. GEO Group was called out for the abysmal conditions in a Mississippi juvenile facility by a federal judge, who held that the private company allowed “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate.” On top of concerns about privatized prisons, the latest outcry over the proposed McFarland facility crystallizes the ongoing problem of California’s women’s prisons, facilities plagued by scandals and problems that remain largely out of the public eye.

While the GEO contract might temporarily alleviate overcrowding, it doesn’t solve the real problem, which would be to allow the release of non-violent offenders and maintain the programs that help these women reintegrate into their communities. (ACP, by the way, provides no assistance for women seeking employment or housing.)

The popularity of Orange Is the New Black has drawn attention to the plight of women in prison. When I talk with people about prisons, I often hear how difficult it is for these women to speak up about their treatment because they have felt so consistently ignored by prison authorities who operate in a system dominated by hyper-masculine principles. The CDCR, like all prison regimes, lacks accountability because their decisions are always shrouded under the guise of “public safety,” something no politician seems bold enough to question.

Women inmates are less likely to riot or institute hunger strikes, which emboldens the CDCR to ignore them because they are less in the public eye—contrast, for example, the very public hunger strikes at Pelican Bay with the relative silence at CCWF. These women suffer from what is called a “double invisibility,” hidden from the public’s eyes because no one will take the time to listen.


California Dept. of Corrections (CDCr) is STILL medically neglecting prisoners…

Yes, you read that right- despite being under Federal Receivership since April 2006, California Department of Corrections is STILL medically neglecting its prisoners. Despite a Federal Class Action lawsuit (Plata v. Schwarzenegger, docket no. 3:01-cv-01351-TEH), which states that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) medical services are inadequate and violate the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, filed due to a prisoner a WEEK dying of neglect and no medical treatment- CDCr is allowing prisoners to go with out necessary medical care. 

Here is a little background:

The case was filed on April 5, 2001, and re-filed with an amended complaint on August 20, 2001.  The alleged deficiencies included inadequate medical screening of incoming prisoners; delays in or failure to provide access to medical care, including specialist care; untimely responses to medical emergencies; the interference of custodial staff with the provision of medical care; the failure to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of competent medical staff; disorganized and incomplete medical records; a “lack of quality control procedures, including lack of physician peer review, quality assurance and death reviews”; a lack of protocols to deal with chronic illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, hepatitis, and HIV; and the failure of the administrative grievance system to provide timely or adequate responses to complaints concerning medical care.  The claims alleged that patients being treated by the CDCR received inadequate medical care that resulted in the deaths of 34 inmate-patients.

The plaintiffs and defendants negotiated a stipulation for injunctive relief, which the court approved by court order on June 13, 2002, requiring defendants to provide “only the minimum level of medical care required under the Eighth Amendment.

However, three years after approving the stipulation as an order of the court, the court conducted an evidentiary hearing that revealed the continued existence of appalling conditions arising from defendants’ failure to provide adequate medical care to California inmates.  As a result, the court ruled in June 2005 and issued an order on October 3, 2005 putting the CDCR’s medical health care delivery system in receivership.  The receivership became effect in April 2006.

Fast forward 8 years…and even though a state of the art prison hospital was built and opened in Stockton, we still have major, deadly serious issues. Here is a  recent editorial via the OC Register:

Editorial: California prison health care is seriously ill

California’s effort to provide medical services in the state prison system has been an abysmal failure. For more than a decade, the state has provided what one federal judge called a system of “at times outright depravity,” with a standard of health service delivery that has failed to pass constitutional muster.

Even with the implementation in 2005-06 of a federal receivership, which works with state corrections officials to reform correctional health service delivery, the system has continued to violate the Eighth Amendment protections of state prison inmates. Clearly, something else needs to be done.

The shoddy performance came to light following a 2001 lawsuit alleging dozens of preventable deaths each year in state prisons directly attributable to negligent health care. With more than 100,000 inmates subject to a medical system in violation of the U.S. Constitution, the California health system is a poor reflection on the state.

Gov. Jerry Brown has repeatedly sought to end the federal receivership and return full control of prison health services to the state. He contends that the state has made significant process. Federal judge Thelton Henderson disgreed, ruling that “evidence of progress does not constitute evidence of [the state’s] own will, capacity, and leadership to maintain a constitutionally adequate system of inmate medical care.”

Just last year, investigators reporting to the federal receiver found that supervision over medical services at Corcoran State Prison was “grossly inadequate and threatens the safety of patients.” This summer, state auditors reported that the state and the federal receiver failed to ensure that dozens of women provided informed consent before undergoing sterilization.

Whatever California is doing just isn’t working. There is too much bureaucracy and too much foot-dragging.

The system isn’t fair to inmates or taxpayers and is a $2 billion failure, with costs rising year after year. Pew Charitable Trusts found that, from 2001-08, the state saw per-inmate health care expenditures grow 84 percent, from $6,426 to $11,793. Clearly, ballooning expenditures haven’t ensured that the system is working.

There are alternatives. In 2012, California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office suggested that the state look at contracting out health care services. Dozens of states contract out a variety of correctional health services. Texas contracted with its state university system to provide inmate medical care. Kansas contracts all medical services with a private company.

The LAO notes that of all models, contracting out through a competitive bidding process, with a clearly defined contract and sets of expectations, yields the best results in terms of service delivery and controlling costs for state governments.

Several counties already do this for medical services in their jails. Santa Cruz County is one of the most recent, contracting out with a private health company with the potential to save millions of dollars while providing patients the same or better level of care.

Violating the Constitution, squandering tax dollars and putting lives at risk is intolerable. California should take seriously the ideas of the LAO and look at what other states are doing to make their prison health systems work.

Now the reason for this post; A very good friend of mine has been detailing for the last week and half on Facebook, her BATTLE to get her elderly husband seen and treated at Solano State Prison. Ken is 67 years old and has a history of medical issues. We all know and understand that aging in prison is not simple nor is it easy. Ken called his wife around September 18th and let he know he was not feeling well and had been not feeling well for a few days. He was seen by a Dr. Rorher  at the prison. Symptoms include serious stomach pains, black stools, dark orange urine, chills, being light headed, fatigue, and muscle weakness. This “Doctor” did nothing for him, no tests, no labs, NOTHING. This “Doctor” also did NOT document any of Ken’s symptoms. He did not write anything in Ken’s medical file. The wife, growing appropriately concerned, emailed CPHCS ( California Prison Health Care Services) and received an email acknowledgment.

From: “CDCR CPHCS CCU Web Inquiry@CDCR” <CCHCSCCUWeb@cdcr.ca.gov>
To: Melissa (REDACTED)
Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2014 1:16 PM
Subject: RE: Kenneth (REDACTED) Solano State Prison

The Controlled Correspondence Unit (CCU) processes and distributes email inquiries received by the California Correctional Health Care Services Receivership at cphcsccuweb@cdcr.ca.gov.  CCU received your email dated September 18, 2014,  at 1:12 pm regarding Mr. Kenneth (REDACTED)
We appreciate your correspondence and carefully review each letter we receive regarding patient-inmate health care. If any of the issues you raised are determined urgent, CCU staff will act on those issues immediately. If it is determined a response is required, please be advised, due to the complexity of certain health care issues and the volume of correspondence CCU receives,  a written reply may take up to 30 business days.
This email address is for outgoing messages only and does not accept incoming email.
If you require additional assistance or information you may contact the
Controlled Correspondence Unit by mail at:
Controlled Correspondence Unit, Building C-3
PO Box 588500
Elk Grove, CA 95758
Or leave a message on the Inmate Health Care Inquiry Hotline at (916) 691-1404.
From: Melissa (REDACTED)
Sent: Monday, September 22, 2014 12:03 PM
To: Stuart, Sara@CDCR
Subject: Re: Kenneth (REDACTED)  Solano State Prison ( New Information)
Hi Sara,
I think  I know what might be causing this medical situation. About a month or so ago Dr. Rorher changed my husband’s antinflamatory medications Meloxicam and Salsalate to Sulindac 200 mgs which he now has many of  these syptoms that coincide with the serious side effects of Sulindac. With Meloxicam and Salsalte  he had none of these symptoms and they worked just fine  when he gets his prescriptions on time. He generally has to put in to get them refilled 2 to 4 times to get a 10 day supply and he  is out of them for a week or two at a time.. He woud rather take Meloxicam and regular Tylenol  and not Tylenol 3 because he can’t stand in line very long and there is no bench to sit on while waiting and  now that Dr. Roher would not  renew his chrono for no prolong sitting or standing he is going to be in more pain trying to stand, or sit for long periods of time. There might be other reasons for the sympotoms but my husband just called and reminded me he had me look up the side effects to the Sulindac and remembered I named many of his symptoms.
From: “Stuart, Sara@CDCR” <Sara.Stuart@cdcr.ca.gov>
To: Melissa (REDACTED)
Sent: Monday, September 22, 2014 1:37 PM
Subject: RE: Kenneth (REDACTED)  Solano State Prison ( New Information)
Hello Melissa,
It looks like this is being taken care of through our Controlled Correspondence department (the hotline).  I believe they are expecting an update on September 29, 2014 for you.  This does not mean that they are not caring for him based on your email, only that you will get a response on that date either by phone or mail. 
Thank you,
Sara L. Stuart
Administrative Assistant II to
R. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP
Director of Health Care Operations 
Statewide Chief Medical Executive
California Correctional Health Care Services
8280 Longleaf Drive, Bldg D
STE 732
Elk Grove, CA  95758
Here are the Facebook posts ( via copy & paste):
9/18/14 11:15 am My husband age 67 has been having stomach pains complaining he feels like he has glass in his stomach for a few days now, he was seen by Dr. Roar yesterday briefly, nothing was done, no labs, no tests, no nothing. This morning he called and said he had been constipated and his stools are black, dark orange urine, he has chills, weakness, difficulty walking and he is very fatigue. I have made several calls to the prison and spoke to Medical Services who transferred me to the facility Medical Release of Information number to leave a message and they will get back to me within 5 days. Really, dark stools can be internal bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract and yet it might take 5 days to speak to someone and who knows how long before he gets medical treatment. Now the fight begins, so tired of having to fight CDCr on everything. Praying for God to intervene here and get my husband some medical help as well as complete healing. I pray the geriatric policies we worked on will be passed and implemented.
9/18/14 9;58pm
No nothing since 8:20 am. They shut the phones off at 9:15 pm. I am very worried. He calls in the morning then about 2 or 3 pm then before 7pm. And when he called this morning he only had a couple of mins because they were doing mandatory yard for an hour and everyone had togo to yard if they weren’t working. He said he felt like he was going to pass out so going to the yard was not a good thing for him but CDCr doesnt care.( Didn’t hear from Ken all day since morning call because he was too weak to get up to walk)
9/19/14 7:56 am  Ken just called he is still not feeling well and still has not been treated. He has had chills and profuse sweating. Has no appetite and says his stomach feels like ground glass. He doesnt sound too well. I am very worried hopefully someone will look into this, get him some medical attention and call me back.
9/19/14 12:48 pm My husband called this morning he is still not feeling well. Then the nurse from the facility called and said; I reviewed his chart and there is nothing in the notes that says anything about that his stomach feels liken ground glass, black stools or dark urine. I told her that is the problem that dr, never documents anything, never treats him for what he went there for but always tries to give him something he did not need or was not the problem and never runs any tests. If the doctor had documented the symptoms then he would have had to acknowledge the symptoms and treat him. Then there would be proof he was not treated for his symptoms. CDCr really angers me ggggrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!! —  feeling irritated.
9/24/14 9:04 pm My husband is still feeling ill and I am still fighting good old CDCr for adequate medical attention. Ken and I figured out Monday that he is having serious side effects from Sulindac 200mg anti­ inflammatory as they changed his prescription last month I checked out the side effects and they match his symptoms.
10­/2­/14 3:46 pm Finally got some help for my husband today. I am so tired of CDCr neglecting inmates especially elderly inmates it is elder abuse to withhold medical treatment. Finally, they got the ball rolling today after I had to threaten a lawsuit and filing a complaint with the medical board against the doctor. The analyst from California Correctional Healthcare Services got him a ducat to see someone on Tuesday which was a nurse who said the doctor was finally ordering lab work. He has been sick with all these symptoms of serious side effects from Sulindac Anti­inflammatory which causes internal bleeding and stomach infections for 3 weeks and seen for the 1st time by Dr. Rohrer who gave him Milk of Magnesia for black stools, constipation, dark orange urine and complains of stomach pain feeling like broken glass. He then developed chills,sweats, and so he put in another request to see a doctor and saw the nurse who gave him over the counter cough pills that did not help. I told him Friday to put in another request and put EMERGENCY on it and he seen the nurse again on Tuesday wwho said the doctor put in labs which he had lost 13 pounds in 14 days. The healthcare analyst called Tuesday and said she saw his emergency request and was told labs were going to be taken. She said the symptoms he is having are not being recorded when he is treated in Triage or by the doctor however she saw on his request slips his symptoms. Today after speaking with the assistant administrator forcorrectional healthcare services chief medical executive who said lab work has been ordered and she has been watching the emails back and forth today on his case and they should be doing something today as labs are being ordered and he has an appointment with the doctor on OCTOBER 8th. Meanwhile if he does not receive medical attention and antibiotics and find out what is causing these symptom which he has stopped taking the sulindac 2 weeks ago but the damage is already done and my husband could die from medical neglect. I got a 2nd call today and was told his symptoms were not being logged when he has been seen as there are no records which I told her the EMERGENCY request the analyst read to me and told me this case was an emergency and she read what his request said. So I told the assistant administrator the analysis knew about the symptoms ass it was on the emergency request but not in his medical files and there seems to be a problem with medical staff not documenting patient symptoms or medical issues. So the administrator said this case has went to her supervisor and he should get help immediately according to the emails coming in. Why must I fight for basic medical treatment, he is 67 and with holding medical treatment is Elder Abuse. I am firing off letters to elected officials to bring awareness this is ridiculous and I am supposed tobe resting and recovering from surgery not fighting with CDCr to do their job.
October 2 at 5:19pm   no they are not documenting what the inmate request for medical is, the symptoms, reason for visit does not match the inmate request for medical service slip. If they do not document symptoms they have no record of healthcare concerns and dont have to treat if they have no proof he is having medical issues. Also pharmacy is not giving them the proper medications, they don’t refill what he needs but give him stuff he is no longer taking or does not need. He will have a prescription for 30 days supply but they only give him 10 days supply and it takes 2 or 3 requests to get them refilled if at all. Often they claim his medications were already picked up and he never got them, he refuses to take narcotics because he does not trust CDCr and doesnt want the board to think he might become addicted as he was an alcoholic. But his anti ­inflammatorys and Tylenol as well as his dementia medications, eye drops for glaucoma never get refilled if he does not take the eye drops he can go blind.
October 2 at 5:36pm I went after CDCr on elder abuse last year because they were making him sit for 3 hours in a GED class and he had a chrono for no prolonged sitting or standing he has had for years because he has metal rods in his back due to degenerative disc disease and is in pain all the time, He has Glaucoma and can only read about 5 mins before the pressure behind his eye becomes so agonizing that he gets a migraine and he has mild Dementia NOS, (Not Otherwise Specified) meaning it is not Alzheimer type and they do not know the cause but has some mild memory loss and disorientated at times, has trouble figuring out words he is trying to say or concentrating. So they made him do this GED Class for 18 months which was inflicted pain, suffering and mental suffering upon him. He was in agony every day for what, he is at retirement age and when he gets out he will have his full retirement. California Penal Code SECTION 368­368.5 (b) states; Any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any elder or dependent adult, with knowledge that he or she is an elder or a dependent adult, to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any elder or dependent adult, willfully causes or permits the person or health of the elder or dependent adult to be injured, or willfully causes or permits the elder or dependent adult to be placed  in a situation in which his or her person or health is endangered, is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, three, or four years.So I used the Penal Code against CDCr and sent my letter to 15 people within CDCr, Center for Aging, Governor, my legislative representatives, and prison law office and all three federal judges. My letter was passed down from one person to another and the associate warden personally addressed the issue and took him out of the GED program. Then the captain followed up and told my husband to tell me to call me off. The teacher tried to write him up for not coming to class after that when she knew he was unassigned so I filed a citizen’s complaint against her for elder abuse.  A lawyer friend  told me back then I was onto something.
10­3­14  9:38 am They finally took labs today for my husband, about time. He has now lost 17 pounds in 18 days and he was sweating profusely while getting labs which after arguing with him they took his temperature which was normal by they saw how much he was perspiring. He has to give urine and stool samples over the weekend so hopefully by his drs appointment on the 8th he will know what is going on and hopefully finally get treatment. It took an act of congress to get him those labs, they had him on as an add­on patient at 7am this morning instead of ducatting him for labs. They had better have documented how much weight he has lost because they argued with me yesterday that he weighed the same as he did in March and I told them the nurse was surprised my husband could figure out in his head how much he lost in 14 days and the nurse had to use a calculator and he documented it, so where did that document go, sounds like someone is doctoring records.
10/3/14  2:30 pm I just got back from an appointment with my primary physician and I told him what is happening to my husband and he was floored by all this and sad this is a serious medical emergency and he should have been treated on the first visit to medical services by the doctor as it appears he has internal blessing in his GI tract and there are 44 medical conditions it can be and this can be life threatening. So I googled it and found this
10/3/14  3:09 pm Thanks everyone for all your thoughts, prayers and concerns. It is so sad that they let inmates die from lack of medical services because it does not matter what they have done wrong to get in there at the end of the day they are still someones family member, Mother, Father, son, daughter, husband, wife, sibling, friend, human being, and all are God;s children . I think this is the way CDCr is trying to reduce the prison population by letting inmates suffer and die as they have someone else to take their place. Prisons are big business and they make money off these inmates. The general public has no idea what really goes on because they are fed bs by the media to believe inmates are un deserving of basic medical attention and basic human rights and that they already get the best of care better than what civilians get, they believed they get 3 hots and a cot and that is all they need until it happens to them, We incarcerate more people in the US than any other nation and most of them are incarcerated right here in California where they do not get Gold Standard Medical Care as Governor Brown has stated. Maybe Governor Brown needs to seek medical treatment at the prison as an average inmate and see if prison medical is the Gold Standard Medical Care that he gets as his  Goold a State Employee and Elected Official. Even I have better medical care than my husband and I have Medicare/Medical. My Doctor was disgusted by the medical services provided to inmates. I havesuch a wonderful doctor that he had left the clinic I went to for years and I found out where he was at and went back to see him after a year. I stopped by my old clinic on the way to see him at the new clinic for the very first time and had my medical records transfered to his new clinic which was going to take a couple of weeks to be sent over. He did not have any of my medical records or chart and he still remembered me and asked about my husband as he has had to write notes to verify metal in my ankle and my back injury for a high table chrono so we can sit at a regular table and not at those coffee table size tables, He still remembered my husband and has always treated me and my husband when speaking about him with dignity and compassion.
10/4/14 Today he is feeling a bit better but still  ill, he is drained has no energy but the chills have stopped he has stool samples to give today, tomorrow and Monday then he will see the Doctor Tuesday. A few months ago Ken had a bad sinus infection. He has Asthma and COPD so a Sinus Infection really hits him hard. He was seen  by medical staff including Dr. Rohrer who seen him first  followed by nurses weekly for a month before he was prescribed Antibiotics and he  had to tell them what was wrong with him to get theAmoxicillin the last visit 4 weeks later. He could have died then and this time before they did any  type of treatment.
And this is but one story…folks there is more, much more. As the stories come to me, I will be publishing them here.
Why is it the Governor and CDCr can break the federal lawsuit judgement and not suffer any consequences? You can bet we are going to push for consequences…ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Do you use JPay to send your loved ones funds? This is a MUST read…

Prison bankers cash in on captive customers

By Daniel Wagner

Inmates’ families gouged by fees- VULTURE BANKING!!

This is the first in a two-part series examining how financial companies charge high fees to the families of prison inmates. The second part, which will run Thursday, focuses on no-bid deals between Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the U.S. Treasury, under which they provide financial services to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Pat Taylor doesn’t believe in going into debt. She keeps her bills in a freezer bag under her bed, next to old photo albums, and believes in paying them on time religiously. For Taylor, living within your means is part of being a good Christian.

Lately, Taylor, 64, has felt torn between that commitment and her desire to be a loving, supportive mother for her son Eddie.

Eddie, 38, is serving 20-year prison sentence at Bland Correctional Center for armed robbery. He’s doing his time at a medium-security Virginia state prison located 137 miles northwest of Johnson City, across the dips and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains here in the heart of Appalachia. The cost of supporting and visiting Eddie keeps going up, so Pat makes trade-offs.

“I would send him money even if it broke me, because I do go without paying some bills sometimes to go see him,” Pat says.

Between gas to make the trip and overpriced sandwiches from the prison vending machine, visiting Bland costs about $50, a strain on her housekeeper’s wages. So she alternates, visiting Eddie one week and sending him money the next.

To get cash to her son, Pat used to purchase a money order at the post office for $1.25 and mail it to the prison, for a total cost of less than $2. But in March of last year, the Virginia Department of Corrections informed her that JPay Inc., a private company in Florida, would begin handling all deposits into inmates’ accounts.

Sending a money order through JPay takes too long, so Taylor started using her debit card to get him funds instead. To send Eddie $50, Taylor must pay$6.95 to JPay. Depending on how much she can afford to send, the fee can be as high as 35 percent. In other states, JPay’s fees approach 45 percent.

After the fee, the state takes out another 15 percent of her money for court fees and a mandatory savings account, which Eddie will receive upon his release in 2021, minus the interest, which goes to the Department of Corrections.

Eddie needs money to pay for basic needs like toothpaste, visits to the doctor and winter clothes. In some states families of inmates pay for toilet paper, electricity, even room and board, as governments increasingly shift the costs of imprisonment from taxpayers to the families of inmates.

“To give him $50, I have to send $70 off my card,” says Taylor, who moved to a smaller apartment on the outskirts of Johnson City in part because of the rising cost of supporting Eddie.

“They’re punishing the families, not the inmates.”

Price of prison

JPay and other prison bankers collect tens of millions of dollars every year from inmates’ families in fees for basic financial services. To make payments, some forego medical care, skip utility bills and limit contact with their imprisoned relatives, the Center for Public Integrity found in a six-month investigation.

Inmates earn as little as 12 cents per hour in many places, wages that have not increased for decades. The prices they pay for goods to meet their basic needs continue to increase.

By erecting a virtual tollbooth at the prison gate, JPay has become a critical financial conduit for an opaque constellation of vendors that profit from millions of poor families with incarcerated loved ones.

JPay streamlines the flow of cash into prisons, making it easier for corrections agencies to take a cut. Prisons do so directly, by deducting fees and charges before the money hits an inmate’s account. They also allow phone and commissary vendors to charge marked-up prices, then collect a share of the profits generated by these contractors.

Taken together, the costs imposed by JPay, phone companies, prison store operators and corrections agencies make it far more difficult for poor families to escape poverty so long as they have a loved one in the system.

Shifting costs to families

“It’s not just the money transfer that’s the problem, it’s the system it enables to shift costs onto families,” says Lee Petro, an attorney who helped litigate for a national cap on some prison phone rates. Without companies like JPay, he says, “it would be much harder to take money from families and make families of inmates pay their own keep.”

In 12 years, JPay says it has grown to provide money transfers to more than 1.7 million offenders in 32 states, or nearly 70 percent of the inmates in U.S. prisons.

For the families of nearly 40 percent of those prisoners, JPay is the only way to send money to a loved one. Others can choose between JPay and a handful of smaller companies, most of them created by phone and commissary vendors to compete with the industry leader. Western Union also serves some prisons.

JPay handled nearly 7 million transactions in 2013, generating well over $50 million in revenue. It expects to transfer more than $1 billion this year. (The company declined to provide any financial details; those included in this article are culled from public records and interviews with current and former employees.)

“We invented this business,” said Ryan Shapiro, 37, the company’s founder and CEO, in a phone interview in June. “Everyone else tries to imitate what we did, and they don’t do it as well.”

Shapiro says working with corrections includes extra costs for security and software integration. He says he charges only as much as he must to maintain a razor-thin profit margin.

But others provide similar services for less.

NIC Inc., a competitor that helps states set up their websites, charges a flat fee of $2.40 in Maine to send money to inmates. Until recently, Arkansas charged 5 percent to send money through the state’s own Web portal. Floridians pay a fee of 3.5 percent to handle traffic tickets online.

Despite its kudzu-like growth, JPay so far has avoided scrutiny by consumer regulators.

In response to questions for this story, however, the New York Department of Financial Services’ consumer division is reviewing the company’s practices, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to discuss active investigations.

JPay’s rapid rise stems in part from the generous deal it offers many prison systems. They pay nothing to have JPay take over handling financial transfers. And for every payment it accepts in these states — prisoners typically receive about one per month — the company sends between 50 cents and $2.50 back to the prison operator. These profit-sharing arrangements, which vendors offer as deal-sweeteners in contract negotiations, are known in the industry as “commissions.”

JPay’s payments to Illinois last year came to about $4,000 a month, according to documents obtained under the state’s open records law.

Jails often deduct intake fees, medical co-pays or the cost of basic toiletries first, leaving the account with a negative balance. This prevents inmates from buying “optional” supplies like stationery or sturdier shoes until they have paid down the debt.

Such charges levied by jails for common items are not new. The practice began prior to the rise of JPay, mainly with phone companies and operators of prison stores. But by automating the process, prison bankers make it a lot easier.

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