Sunday, October 22, 2006

Does jail profiteering on collect calls retard right to counsel?

Responding to yesterday's post on prisoner phone calls, a retired Texas district judge emails to say:
"Scott: If you want to dig a little further, you'll find that the telephones in the Dallas Couny and (I think) Harris County jails only allow prisoners to make collect calls and that the per minute rates are exorbitant. Then, lo and behold, you'll find that part of those charges are kicked back to the counties. In other words, the counties are making a profit on those calls -- profit that is subsidized by the inmates' families and the criminal defense lawyers who receive the majority of the calls."
I agree profiteering off these calls borders on grotesque, and it happens everywhere, not just Dallas and Houston. Often counties charge ridiculously high fees they come to rely on in their budgets. Unfortunately, that income stream is also the ONLY incentive for jails (or potentially TDCJ) to offer phone access. So whaddya do?

Though local jails are a different issue from state prisoners, the judge's comment about costs to local attorneys raises this question to me: Is county profiteering off jail calls to attorneys effectively reducing inmates' access to attorneys and inhibiting their right to counsel?

Wouldn't such policies provide an insitutionalized economic incentive for attorneys to minimize client communications? I wonder if there's a constitutional case there?

4 comments:

sunray's wench said...

someone somewhere makes money on every collect call ever placed; I'm not against the jails or TDCJ scraping back a little income from the calls (Americans pay very little for local calls compared to us Brits, but our access to long distance and international calls seems to be better and cheaper) ~ so why couldnt it be capped to a percentage, to be reviewed every 2 years? Or dont have collect calls at all, but give the inmates pre-paid phone cards that they can top up when at comissarry. You can still limit who they call, and you can bet that if the families dont get their calls, they will stop putting the money there for the phone cards! There are still more reasons FOR this than AGAINST, imo.

Catonya said...

A few years ago collect calls from the Wichita County jail to a local number, cost over $3 per minute.

Depending on which telephone provider the recipient used, they might be required to "register" with the payphone service provider or phone company prior to receiving calls from the jail. A deposit was sometimes required, usually between $100-200, depending on whatever criteria they used.

Talk about a racket to profit off those already in a financial hardship.

800 pound gorilla said...

Sounds like one of the many examples of "the poor penalty". Whether it's high minimums for fee free checking accounts and money orders, high late fees [for those who go paycheck to paycheck], credit factoring in insurance rates, quantity discounts, or any other method the bottom line is to sock it to those with the least. Why should prisons be any different? Poor people are stigmatized in this "land of opportunity". Those with criminal records are stigmatized to a greater degree. After all, most conservatives [authoritarian militarists] claim that they get a free ride from government - denying high income sponsors up to 25% of the taxpayer pie. Why not sock it to them one more time.

Anonymous said...

Harris County had to kill this cash cow, probably due to lawsuit. All local calls are free from the jail now.