The bill would require TDCJ to put out a request for bids to give prisoners phone access with restricted approved call lists, monitoring of calls (except those with an inmate's attorney), extensive data gathering, and use of biometric identifiers for access. It would require the winning vendor to install and maintain at least one phone for every 30 inmates in each unit.See the House Research Organization's bill analysis for more.
I favor this bill and I hope it passes, but there's one troubling aspect that in the future must likely be addressed. I'm all for improving prisoner phone access for a variety of reasons, and I also favor victim compensation as an integral part of the justice process. But this legislation anticipates $15 million per year in profits from the phone system from collect calls will go to Texas' crime victim compensation fund.
Here's the rub: The policy punishes the wrong people. That money comes from families, not offenders! And $15 million is a lot of scratch - it's likely that requirement significantly increases the cost of collect calls from prison, improperly in my view. Increasing phone access strengthens family ties, reduces recidivism, and improves inmate behavior - extra costs only thwart those more important policy goals. Victim compensation is great, but offenders should be the ones who compensate them, not their loved ones who did nothing wrong.
Don't get me wrong - politics is the art of compromise and that objection isn't enough to cause me to oppose the bill. But it's an example of an all too common approach that views the criminal justice system as a revenue source instead of pursuing rehabilitation goals. Somehow, someday, we must move away from that mentality.
UPDATE: This bill was postponed until Tuesday, May 1 - time to contact your state representative if you support HB 1888 to ask them to vote for it.