Category Archives: Information.Technology

How the Prison Phone Industry Further Isolates Prisoners

Source: Kalena Thomhave, American Prospect, October 12, 2017
 
When inmates are able to speak to friends and family while incarcerated, it not only improves their lives, but also, studies have shown, reduces recidivism after they leave prison. But to fill in budget holes or to make a profit, many state and local governments work with companies that put a high price tag on this basic need for the incarcerated.  A handful of companies monopolize the prison phone industry, and their control of the market allows them to charge exorbitant rates for inmate calls to their homes. States that contract with these providers tend to choose the contractor that provides not the lowest price, but the highest commission rate for the state. As a result, prisoners and their families may pay up to $1 per minute on a call. …

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Face-to-Face Family Visits Return to Some Jails
Source: Mindy Fetterman, The Pew Charitable Trusts, February 15, 2017

… Jailhouse visits like this one between family members and inmates are starting to make a comeback, replacing a decadeslong trend of requiring families to use Skype-like video technology in which families dial in from a computer at home, a public library or inside the jail itself to talk to a loved one who is incarcerated. The reason: Video technology companies came under criticism for charging high fees and for providing poor quality video connections. And evidence is growing that in-person visits help cut the likelihood that inmates will return to jail once they get out. Counties in Texas and Mississippi as well as the District of Columbia are reinstating face-to-face visits. A few states, like New Jersey, are considering legislation to allow in-person visits again.

… Although in-person visits remain the most common form of interaction between inmates and family members, the trend toward video visitation has been growing since the late 1990s. More than 500 jails and state prisons in 43 states have some sort of video visitation system, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. About 12 percent of jails have it, according to a study by PPI, which advocates for prisoners and their families. … And as video visitation has increased, face-to-face visitation has declined. The PPI found in a 2015 study that 74 percent of jails dropped in-person visits when they started video visits. Often the private companies that provide video visitation services require governments to drop in-person visits. … More than one in three families go into debt to cover the costs of staying in touch with people who are incarcerated, including paying for video calls, telephone calls and travel expenses for trips to jails and especially prisons, which can be hundreds of miles away, according to a survey of families by the Ella Baker Center, a nonprofit that advocates against mass incarceration. … Those fees have come under criticism for being a “kickback” for governments, too. … The controversy over the cost of video visitation calls is part of a larger debate over the high cost of regular telephone calls for inmates. …

FCC made a case for limiting cost of prison phone calls. Not anymore.
Source: Ann E. Marimow, The Washington Post, February 5, 2017

Federal regulators no longer are pressing to cut the costs of most prison phone calls, backing away from a years-long effort to limit charges imposed by a handful of private companies on inmates and their families. The shift by the Federal Communications Commission comes as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Monday considers whether commissioners went too far when they capped prices for inmate calls that had reached more than a $1 per minute. To make phone calls from most federal and state prisons, inmates generally must set up accounts with a private company to hold money deposited by family members. The companies typically have a contract with the prisons, which receive a portion of the call revenue. Federal regulators had pushed since 2013 to lower the costs, saying the prices made it too hard for relatives to stay in touch. But a week after President Trump tapped a new leader for the FCC, the commission’s attorneys changed course and told the court that the FCC no longer would defend one of its own key provisions that limited fees for prisoners’ intrastate calls. … But supporters of the FCC’s limits say the phone contracts are being awarded on the basis of companies’ willingness to pay the highest commissions to prison systems — not on the basis of lowest rates or best service. In 2013, phone-service companies paid at least $460 million in commissions to correctional facilities, according to a brief filed by a coalition of advocates for inmates and their families. A number of state prison systems, including in New York’s, Mississippi’s and New Jersey’s, have taken steps to reduce rates and in some cases to limit commissions. …

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Judge: IBM Owes Indiana $78M For Failed Welfare Automation

Source: Associated Press, August 7, 2017

A judge has ruled that IBM Corp. owes Indiana $78 million in damages stemming from the company’s failed effort to automate much of the state’s welfare services. … Indiana and IBM sued each other in 2010 after then-Gov. Mitch Daniels cancelled the company’s $1.3 billion contract to privatize and automate the processing of Indiana’s welfare applications following numerous complaints. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled last year that IBM breached its contract. The justices affirmed a lower court’s award of nearly $50 million to IBM in state fees, but that ruling allowed Indiana to seek more than $172 million in damages from IBM.

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IBM contests judge’s removal petition in welfare-privatization suit
Source: Dave Stafford, Indiana Lawyer, May 25, 2016

The state’s petition to remove a trial court judge who oversaw the civil lawsuit over the canceled $1.3 billion contract with IBM to overhaul Indiana’s welfare system is “factually incorrect,” according to an attorney representing IBM. Andrew Hull of Hoover Hull Turner LLP said in a statement that Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer did nothing to merit removal and didn’t violate Indiana Trial or Appellate Rules in an order issued on remand from the Indiana Supreme Court, as Barnes & Thornburg LLP lawyers representing the state argued in briefs filed Monday. Their petitions and brief seeking writs from the Supreme Court argue Dreyer overstepped his authority by issuing the order without proceedings, called into question his impartiality in the matter, and asked the court to vacate his order on remand and bar him from issuing further orders in the case.

Indiana Seeks New Judge After No Damages Awarded in IBM Case
Source: Rick Callahan, Associated Press, May 10, 2016

Attorneys for the state are challenging a judge’s decision not to award Indiana damages in its long-running fight with IBM Corp. over the company’s failed effort to privatize state welfare services, saying a new judge should be appointed to handle the case. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled in March that IBM had breached its $1.3 billion contract to automate much of Indiana’s welfare system. The high court directed the trial court judge to determine what damages IBM owed the state, opening the door for Indiana to seek up to $175 million. But on Friday, that judge, Marion County Superior Court Judge David Dreyer, ruled that “the costs for which the State seeks reimbursement were not adequately proven, and thus cannot be recovered as damages.” The state’s private attorneys in the case quickly filed a motion seeking a new judge to oversee the case. … The resulting lawsuits between Indiana and IBM were assigned to Dreyer, who found in 2012 that Indiana had failed to prove IBM breached its state contract and awarded the New York-based company about $50 million in state fees. Indiana appealed that ruling, and the state Court of Appeals found in February 2014 that IBM had committed a material breach of its contract by failing to deliver improvements to the state’s welfare system. But it also found IBM was entitled to nearly $50 million in state fees.

Mediation coming in IBM, Indiana contract dispute
Source: Associated Press, December 10, 2014

IBM Corp. and the state of Indiana are turning to mediation in hopes of settling their dispute over IBM’s failed attempt to privatize Indiana’s welfare services. The two parties said in a Monday court filing with the Indiana Supreme Court that they have agreed to mediation and chosen John R. Van Winkle of Indianapolis-based Van Winkle-Baten Dispute Resolution to hear their differences at a Feb. 25 mediation session. The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the welfare-privatization contract dispute on Oct. 30. The following week, Chief Justice Loretta Rush suggested that the parties consider mediation “to seek a mutually agreeable resolution of their dispute.” Rush’s order also said that if mediation failed, the court would move ahead to reach a decision in the long-running dispute.

Appeal of IBM-deal fees heard
Source: Niki Kelly, Journal Gazette, November 26, 2013

The fallout from the failed $1.3 billion IBM welfare modernization contract continued Monday as the Indiana Court of Appeals heard arguments over $100 million in disputed fees. … Attorney Peter Rusthoven, representing the state, said the system was plagued with problems from the outset and IBM refused to hire more people to add to the “human dimension.” …. But attorney Jay Lefkowitz, on behalf of IBM, pointed out that Indiana was trying to hire IBM to run the new hybrid system up until the day the company was terminated.

IBM, state in court Monday
Source: Tim Evans, Indianapolis Star, November 20, 2013

The Indiana Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Monday in the legal battle over a $52 million judgment the state has been ordered to pay IBM over the failed attempt to privatize public welfare services under former Gov. Mitch Daniels. …. The state is appealing a Marion Superior Court judge’s 2012 ruling awarding $52 million to IBM after the state canceled a contract Daniels had hailed in 2006 as the solution for fixing one of the nation’s worst welfare systems. …. “Neither party deserves to win this case,” he wrote in his 65-page ruling. “This story represents a ‘perfect storm’ of misguided government policy and overzealous corporate ambition. Overall, both parties are to blame, and Indiana’s taxpayers are left as apparent losers.”

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Part of food stamp website offline for two weeks
Source: Tony Cook, Indianapolis Star, November 6, 2013

Earlier this year, state contractor RCR Technology wrongly released the private information of Indiana welfare recipients. Now, part of the state’s benefits website administered by the company is broken. …. The problems come just four months after revelations that RCR wrongly revealed private data of FSSA clients, including Social Security numbers. … RCR was initially an FSSA subcontractor, but was later elevated to prime contractor after Gov. Mitch Daniels fired IBM over a botched 10-year, $1.37 billion deal to overhaul the state’s welfare system, Gavin said.

Ind. court sets hearing on IBM welfare lawsuit
Source: Associated Press, September 3, 2013

The Indiana Court of Appeals has set a November hearing in the state’s legal fight with IBM Corp. over a failed attempt to overhaul Indiana’s welfare system. The state is appealing a Marion County judge’s ruling last year awarding $52 million to IBM after then-Gov. Mitch Daniels canceled what was a 10-year, $1.37 billion contract to process applications for food stamps, Medicaid and other programs….

The Unequal State of America: Indiana’s rocky road to welfare reform
Source: David Rohde and Kristina Cooke, Reuters, December 20, 2012

In 2006, Gov. Mitch Daniels privatized the management of the welfare-benefits system with a project led by IBM. Two-thirds of Indiana’s social-service agency’s staffers became employees of IBM and its partners. In a process dubbed “welfare modernization,” recipients would apply for benefits online and by phone rather than meeting social workers face to face. It was, by Daniels’s own admission, a failure…..

JEditorial: Human toll of FSSA deal laid bare
Source: Journal Gazette, July 24, 2012

Editorial: Decision to privatize state welfare system a mistake from start
Source: Evansville Courier & Press, July 22, 2012

Judge denies Indiana claim over failed IBM project
Source: Charles Wilson, Associated Press, July 18, 2012

A judge on Wednesday spurned Indiana’s efforts to recoup roughly $170 million from IBM Corp. over its failed effort to overhaul the state’s welfare system as part of a broader privatization push that was an early hallmark of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’ tenure. Marion County Judge David Dreyer said in a 75-page order that neither side deserved to win the dispute, and awarded IBM only a small fraction of what it was seeking. … Dreyer blamed “misguided government policy and overzealous corporate ambition” for the failure of the system, which he called an “untested theoretical experiment.” … Dreyer said Indiana failed to prove that IBM breached its contract, and he denied the state any of the money it sought.

IBM questions Daniels’ resistance to deposition
Source: Carrie Ritchie, IndyStar.com, December 19, 2011

In court, state and IBM spar over welfare system’s design
Source: Carrie Ritchie, Indianapolis Star, March 9, 2012

IBM to begin making case in welfare trial
Source: Indianapolis Star, March 21, 2012

IBM: Indiana canceled deal because of budget woes
Source: Associated Press, April 3, 2012

IBM, state in final arguments at welfare system trial
Source: Carrie Ritchie, Indianapolis Star, April 3, 2012

Judge orders Gov. Daniels be deposed in IBM lawsuits
Source: Carrie Ritchie, IndyStar.com, December 16, 2011

A judge has ordered Gov. Mitch Daniels to share his knowledge of a canceled $1 billion contract with IBM to help resolve a legal battle between the state and the company.

Attorneys for the state had said a law protects Daniels and other high-ranking state officials from testifying….

Is Privatization on Its Way Out?

Source: Donald Cohen, HuffPost, July 27, 2017

According to a new report by the Transnational Institute, cities across Europe are increasingly deciding to reclaim public goods like water, energy, and health care from corporations and private investors. For example, fourteen cities in the Catalonia region of Spain have brought their water under public control in the past two years alone. … As always, the movement is starting at the bottom.  There’s Milford, Connecticut, a small city pushing to purchase its water system after learning that the corporation that owns it plans to raise rates by nearly 30 percent.  There’s New York, which just brought back state workers to provide IT help desk services after concerns about rising costs in a contract with IBM.  There’s Atlantic City, New Jersey, which earlier this month passed an ordinance to ensure residents get to vote on any action by the state to sell or lease the city’s water system.  There’s Baltimore, Maryland, where teachers just recruited hundreds of new public school students after weeks of knocking on doors. And Miami, Florida, where parents and teachers rallied over the weekend to demand more funding for public education and regulation of charter schools.

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State workers to return to help desk jobs that had been outsourced

Source: Rick Karlin, Times Union, July 21, 2017
 
Less than a year after it started, the state Office for Information Technology Services is backing away from the outsourcing of its help desk, and will be once again have state workers assume many of those responsibilities. Soon after it began last fall, representatives of numerous state agencies complained they couldn’t get through to the newly privatized help desks, which were based in Buffalo but were backed up in Boulder, Colo. There had also been worries about the cost of the outsourcing. …  The agency said it will continue to work with its main outsourcing contractor, IBM, but state employees will provide on-site assistance at the various state agencies. The process will begin this month in the Capital Region. …

Maryland Judiciary fails to monitor contracts, audit finds

Source: Doug Donovan and Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun, May 10, 2017

Maryland’s court system has failed for years to properly monitor how it spent tens of millions of dollars in contracts and lacked adequate oversight to prove it was getting the most cost-effective deals for taxpayers, a state audit released Friday has found. The Maryland Judiciary lacked “sufficient documentation” to support four contract awards totaling $26 million between July 1, 2012, and Dec. 20, 2015, the audit reported. … Auditors said the judiciary did not provide adequate cost-benefit analyses to support the award of two contracts to existing vendors: a five-year, $21 million contract for Internet services, and a four-year, $2.1 million contract for a digital recording system. In the latter contract, there was a competing bid for almost two-thirds less, $736,000, according to the audit. Additionally, the judiciary didn’t save information about the losing bidders’ proposals for three contracts totaling about $5 million. … The audit also raised concerns about the number of staff allowed to access the purchasing and payment system; the security of its financial management system and database; the processing of traffic citations; and the controls over its equipment and warehouses. … The findings come as the Maryland Judiciary is beginning to prepare a report requested by the Department of Legislative Services to explain “the apparent pattern of overbudgeting” for the state’s Clerks of the Circuit Court offices, according to budget analysis documents. Between 2012 and 2016 the clerks offices were allocated up to 9 percent more than they spent, a surplus that funded other efforts “without the opportunity for the General Assembly to vet those purposes,” according to the legislative services analysis. …

Ohio’s spending on private IT contracts balloons under Kasich

Source: Randy Ludlow, Columbus Dispatch, May 14, 2017 

State spending on information-technology consultants, contractual employees and other private services has ballooned to $452 million a year, while the number of generally less-expensive state IT employees has dropped.  As part of a preliminary inquiry into no-bid contracts uncovered by The Dispatch, the office of Ohio Auditor Dave Yost reports that spending on IT “personal services” has more than doubled from $207 million in 2011-12. … A Dispatch investigation published last month revealed that Administrative Services officials overrode the concerns — both legal and financial — of agency purchasing analysts to award millions of dollars in no-bid contracts, including to a company employing former state IT executives. Supervisors deny disregarding the agency’s purchasing policy and sidestepping the protocol of the state Controlling Board, a bipartisan group that approves major state outlays. The House-passed state budget includes language authored by Rep. Keith Faber, R-Celina, requiring state officials to seek bids on all IT consultants and purchases. The provision also would require such contracts to be submitted to the Controlling Board for its approval.

Palantir Will Pay $1.6 Million In Back Wages In A Discrimination Suit

Source: Cora Lewis, Buzzfeed News, April 25, 2017

On Friday, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) entered into a consent decree with Palantir Technologies — the software and data company whose clients include government agencies and private companies — to resolve charges of systemic hiring discrimination at the company’s Palo Alto facility. The decree, under which Palantir admits no liability, settles allegations that the company discriminated against Asian applicants in the hiring and selection process for engineering jobs. Palantir will pay $1,659,434 in back wages and other relief — including stock options — to the affected class and extend job offers to eight class members. …

Google ‘taken aback’ by inequality accusations, says it’s confident there’s no gender pay gap

Source: Karen Gilchrist, CNBC, April 11, 2017

Google has refuted claims that it systematically underpays female employees by reiterating its gender “blind” approach to remuneration calculations.  In a blogpost on Tuesday by Google’s vice-president of people operations, Eileen Naughton highlighted the technology giant’s commitment to “extremely scientific and robust” annual analyses to help calculate fair salaries. The model, first outlined last year, takes into account role, job level, job location and performance ratings, but is blind to gender – and, as of recently, race.  The comments come days after the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) alleges that the company allows “systematic compensation disparities against women”. In a court hearing held Friday, DOL Regional Director Janette Wipper said the agency had received “compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters.” …

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Google accused of ‘extreme’ gender pay discrimination by US labor department
Source: Sam Levin, The Guardian, April 7, 2017

Google has discriminated against its female employees, according to the US Department of Labor (DoL), which said it had evidence of “systemic compensation disparities”. As part of an ongoing DoL investigation, the government has collected information that suggests the internet search giant is violating federal employment laws with its salaries for women, agency officials said. … The explosive allegation against one of the largest and most powerful companies in Silicon Valley comes at a time when the male-dominated tech industry is facing increased scrutiny over gender discrimination, pay disparities and sexual harassment. Google is a federal contractor, which means it is required to allow the DoL to inspect and copy records and information about its its compliance with equal opportunity laws. Last year, the department’s office of federal contract compliance programs requested job and salary history for Google employees, along with names and contact information, as part of the compliance review. Google, however, repeatedly refused to hand over the data, which was a violation of its contractual obligations with the federal government, according to the DoL’s lawsuit.

… Google is not the first tech company to face legal action from the labor department over employment practices. In September, the DoL filed a lawsuit against Palantir, the Palo Alto data analytics company, alleging it systematically discriminated against Asian job applicants in its hiring process. … In January, the department sued Oracle, another large tech company, claiming it paid white men more than others, leading to pay discrimination against women and black and Asian employees. … In the Google case, the labor department’s lawyers have asked the court to cancel all of the company’s federal contracts and block any future business with the government if it continues to refuse to comply with the audit. …

School district to retain IT department

Source: Joe Cannon, The Sentinel, March 24, 2017

Information technology services will remain in house in the Mifflin County School District following action taken Thursday by the district’s board of directors. Several members of the IT department were present at Thursday’s meeting to urge the board not to outsource IT services to a company that proposed to do so during the board’s February meeting. IT Director Kevin Cunningham and several of his colleagues gave a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the advantages of keeping the department within the district. … Cunningham noted the company proposing to do the service, Questeq, a Coraopolis firm that provides outsourced education technology management services to school districts, alluded to the fact that the in-house department doesn’t have the resources to reach out properly. … Cunningham said outsourcing would allow the district to lose ownership in equipment, personnel decisions and hours worked. …

Lawsuit goes after state computer contractors for unemployment insurance flap

Source: Emily Lawler, MLive, March 8, 2017

Michiganders who say they were falsely flagged for unemployment fraud by the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency computer system are going after the state contractors who provided the technology in a federal lawsuit. … From Oct. 2013 through Aug. 2015, a state computer system flagged people for fraudulent unemployment claims. In some cases it sent a message to an online unemployment account they’d stopped using long ago, and then automatically found people guilty when they did not reply and assessed 400 percent fines. The UIA is currently reviewing 50,000 potential cases of fraud flagged during that time period. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan, is going after the computer companies behind the computer technology that flagged and automatically determined people had committed fraud. It names three vendors involved with the UIA’s computer system: FAST Enterprises, SAS Analytics and CSG Government Solutions. The suit claims those state vendors violated the 4th and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution and parts of the state constitution as well. … People who were determined to have received overpayments were required to pay back the amount plus a 400 percent penalty. … Two of the companies named in the suit still have active contracts with the state to service its unemployment agency. FAST Enterprises has a $47 million contract to modernize UIA computer systems and SAS Analytics has a $14.2 million contract for fraud detection at the UIA and the Food Assistance Program. …