Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Legislation to expand prisoner phone access heads to governor

Excellent news! Long-sought legislation to expand adult prisoners' access to phones in Texas has finally, unanimously passed both chambers as of this afternoon and is now headed to the Governor.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and Reps Pat Haggerty and Terri Hodge deserve tremendous credit for passing SB 1580, described in earlier Grits posts here, here, here, and espeically here, where I laid out what I think are the strongest arguments for expaning prisoners legal phone access. The Texas Inmate Family Association also deserves a lot of credit for doggedly pursuing the reform over the years.

See the House Research Organization's report on the bill's identical House companion for more background on the legislation's specifics.

In future sessions I'd like to see the Legislature revisit this law to reduce the financial burden on families on prisoners approved call list, since high phone rates (profits to the state are split between general revenue and the crime victims' fund) punish family members, not people who've committed crimes. But the bill substantially improves the status quo and deserves the Governor's signature.

25 comments:

TJDO said...

Governor Perry needs to veto this poorly written and immoral legislation. I'm not one to have much sympathy for convicts and I believe a 41 cent stamp and a letter would be cheaper and improve their writing skills. Yes, contact with families is important but at what costs? If anything, the convict is better served participating in family therapy, not a phone call. Phone calls don't get to the root problem. It's just a moneymaker for some idiot vendor who tries to push the rehab bit.

Anonymous said...

The value of this bill to the State of Texas far exceeds the value to offender and their families, no doubt about that!

I for one am pleased to see anything that improves offender communication with family and lawyers. Even if it is expensive, careful management by offenders and their families can result in real benefits for everyone involved. Incarceration involves a lot of money for a lot of vendors, one more doesn't matter much in the great scheme of things.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

TJDO, what is your specific complaint. You say, "at what cost" should prisoners get phone calls. But the cost to the state is ZERO (actually the state makes money), so what's your beef?

And what's "immoral" about letting prisoners talk to their kids and loved ones more often on the phone?

I don't like that it enriches a vendor more than is responsible, or that they're soaking families for extra cash, but that's not an argument against expanding phone access. What's your real beef on this?

TJDO said...

You can find it on my blog. By the way, who licked the red off your candy, tonight?

"And what's "immoral" about letting prisoners talk to their kids and loved ones more often on the phone?"

I said that?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yes, tjdo, you said the legislation was "immoral" gave no reason why (except that you're "not one to have much sympathy for inmates"), and callled for its veto. Since what the legislation does is expand prisoner phone access, I see no other reasonable interpretation of your statement - perhaps you can clarify. Somehow you see to think it's more moral, apparently, to use a 41 cent stamp.

I'm afraid I don't get the candy reference, either and have seen no argument as to why the bill is "poorly written."

Criticize high fees if you want - I certainly have - but personally I see only benefits to expanding phone access, and think most inmate families would agree.

sunray's wench said...

Fantastic news! As I've said before, the technology exists for inmates to have phone cards with a limit on the number of minutes they can use each month (I believe the Fed system is 300 minutes), that the families can pay for by continuing to put money on the inmate's trust fund. So there really is no reason for it to be set up around extortionate collect calls, or for the families to get into debt with huge phone bills. Its down to the politicians now to make sure that's what happens.

tjdo ~ yes inmates are better served when they are taught to write (which most of them are, up to GED level), but unfortunately I've yet to meet a 2 year old that can read their daddy's letters, so phone calls for them at least are a good thing. I'm not asking you to have sympathy for the inmates, but try and have a little for their families, because without us, your job would be a whole lot more difficult and dangerous.

Anonymous said...

TDJO leans to the inmate hating side on most issues although there have been a time or two he said something worth reading. Just visit Texas Justice.org to read some of the garbage our illustrious correctional officers have to say. They are either whining about their boss or exercising their vitriolic hatred for offenders. Rarely is there any balance to a topic.
Some of the more educated and open minded CO's see the phone system as a behavior tool while others just hate the fact that an offender might call home. One thing that may be fueling such negative input is the fact that offenders will be able to get the information of abuse out much quicker than snail mail.
TDJO wants "convicts" participating in family therapy. I must have missed the memo on those classes held where? when? taught by? Hell, if the offender is 400 miles away from his/her family it is a miracle if the family can even visit let alone attend these classes I have not heard about.
I love the last statement, "it's just a moneymaker for some idiot vendor who tries to push the rehab bit." Damn, we wouldn't want any rehabilitation now, would we? Lets be sure to keep that nasty word out of anything to do with prisoners.

PAPA said...

It has been a proven fact that when Inmates have access to phones it opens many doors to expose the abuse, torture, sexual assault, neglect that goes on inside the prison systems.The phone system might mess up a lot of the guards games they play.Now if "WE THE PEOPLE" "VOTING" "TAXPAYING" "CITIZENS" of The State of TEXAS(who pay the salaries of the State of Texas Employees which includes the guards, jailer, Sheriffs, Policemen, Administrators for Corrections, Legislators that make the Laws for Corrections and The Governors) has been hollering for this for a long time. Time someone gives the Fund Providers what they ask for. Now if can get a 911 system set up for Inmates to call for issues and problems, especially emergency situations, instead of handing the grievances to the guards that throw them in the trash, take them home in their briefcases to throw away ... possibly the Prison System might have a chance of becoming a place that Humans can be kept at with HOPES of REHABILITATION instead turning Humans into Animals. Telephones might prevent some of the 100 deaths per day that happen inside of the prison system by being able to get some emergency help especially if can get the 911 system incorporated.The other consideration, this will stop the guards moonlighting job of slipping in and selling cell phones to Inmates.Estimated Telephone Profit for the Prison System is $78 million per year. The guards might could get a raise possibly.Just my opinion and what I have learned over the last dozen years or so. Flo

Anonymous said...

tjdo, who do you think you are? In my opinion you are part of the problem. If you have never been seperated from a loved one and not been able to even talk with them, the heart break is tremendous and to tell a child he can not talk to his Daddy is the heart breaking part of this screwed up mess.

If you are not trying to make things better for Texas and all of us, just stay out of it and keep your mouth closed.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Now, now, to the last anonymous - TJDO gets an opinion, too! Honestly I like it that folks in the corrections field come to Grits even though we might disagree on this or that specific issue or even basic attitudes toward offenders. In my experience in politics, even if you don't like what somebody has to say it's usually better to go ahead and talk to them than not. They may know something you don't! :) best,

Anonymous said...

I have been with TDCJ for 17 years. I have made inmate phone calls (which ties up an officer for 5-10 minutes each to do). It does have an effect on behavior in some cases.

Inmates are required to be disciplinary free for 90 days to make one. I think its a good thing as it provides a service we already do, that takes the load off of staff, and it provides money for programs, staff etc.

It also helps inmates keep tabs on regular outside life. Which i think makes re-integration more sucessful. As long as the income is used contructively that TDCJ makes on it, i am behind it 100%...

Max Ross,Reporter
www.thebackgate.com

billt said...

thank you max ross...i'm an ex-con, i can say for sure you are right!

Anonymous said...

I am so pleased to here that the phones will be there soon. To TDJO:
I understand your opinion is yours but for most of us who work in the free world and can't get down to visit our loved ones every weekend, the phones are a god send. I work some times 14 to 21 nights straight before i get a night off much less two in onrder to travel where i need to go on sunday. Why don't you try seeing it from the families point of view. You hate the offenders so much, that you would take away this to. Everything has already been taken from them, their freedom, their privacy, their dignity, their families. They are down there to do their time and go home. Why don't you try treating them like human beins that they are instead of animals. I bet the horses and dogs that belong to TDCJ eat and live better then the offenders. Yes, I'm a wife to an offender and he knows about the phone. He is happy to see it come in to play finally.

sunray's wench said...

Max ~ what I think a lot of people dont realise is, it's not an automatic phone call after 90 days being case-free, it just means the inmate is eligible for a phone call at some point in the future as long as they remain case-free after 90 days. My hubby has been in 2 3/4 years now and has had NO cases, and NO phone calls. That's not the fault of the COs, it's just the plain fact that 4000 inmates into one phone dont go.

The point about 'abuse' getting out faster is valid, especially as Jay Kimborough or whatever his name is has just nailed down information that really should be public in TYC. Bottom line is, COs cant expect to be respected if they are behaving no better than the inmates in their care did to get into prison in the first place. COs have to be (excuse the colour reference) whiter than white. And for th public to have confidence in the COs, TDCJ has to be transparent. Inmate phones will help that, and COs who do their jobs properly have nothing to fear from it.

Finally, anon @ 11.54 is right ~ the inmates have had just about everything taken away from them now. It leaves very little except the threat of force and brutality (which many have been brought up with so it's no extra threat) to coerce them into better behaviour with. And again, physically beating an inmate makes the system no better than the inmate.

I'm just happy the bill is still on it's way, even though I doubt very much that overseas calls will be part of the package. I wonder if out-of-state calls will be?

Anonymous said...

You all are some of the whiniest people I've ever seen. It's not enough for me, as a taxpayer, to have to house, clothe and feed these thieves. Now, you want a phone call home when Johnny stumps his toe or a guard talks bad to him. Because your relative has no sense of responsibility, it's someone's else fault he's locked up. Well, too bad. If you can't do the time, don't do the crime. If he cared so much for you and his kids, he WOULDN'T be locked up!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@11:01 - no one's asking you to pay for a thing. It's all being done on the backs of inmate families.

sunray's wench said...

@ anon 11.01 ~ nope, it's my husband's fault he is locked up, no one else's. It was his sense of responsibility that kept him from running, and also from putting everyone through a trial that would have hurt more people than he already had. And it's me that wants the phone conversations, so I'm more than willing to work a couple of hours extra each week to pay for them.

This is the way your society has chosen to deal with people who break the law, so dont take it out on the families, take it out on the law makers.

Anonymous said...

Your husband's an awfully lucky fella to have you. Hope he's learning his lesson.

offenders wife said...

To anon @ 11:01: I agree with sunray's wench, It my husbands fault that he is locked up. You won't be paying for the phone call, we will. All of us who have loved ones locked up are more than willing to pay for the chance to talk to our husbands, sons, wives, and daughters that are locked up. So, anon@11:01, that's one less bill on your back.

Anonymous said...

Scott, the last Anonymous only state facts. Phone calls to families would only help and not hurt anyone. For them to be against it, is unfair. They can state whatever they wish to state, but the way they stated the phone call bill only speaks of hatred for those who are incarecerated and their families. If they would do their job and treat Inmates like humans and not worse than animals, we would not have the mistreatment we find in prisons. It appears the Wardens are trying to initate a riot so they can justify more money and more guards by letting the Wardens make their own rules. They should have to follow the rule books and not be allowed to make up their own rules. If you have not seen this, you have not idea of what really goes on. I usually agree with you, but TDJO needs to stay out of what is good for Inmates, they know the mail system is horrible in prisons and it takes 5-6 days for an Inmate to receive a letter from their family as they read all incoming mail, which I believe is wrong. They used to scan it and if there was no contraband found, then get the mail to the Inmate. That is the only contact some of them have with their families.

sunray's wench said...

to anon @ 1.04 ~ dont get me started on the mail or Wardens making up their own rules!

I wish someone could explain to me how 3 letters from my hubby written over 10 days could all arrive at my house with the same postmarked date on them, when I know he mails them out on the date he puts on the letter itself ? And why, when I write to the unit (to the Warden or his secretary), asking for a written copy of the rules governing visits at hubby's unit, I get no response at all? It's a little late to know a rule exists only when you've just broken it. I travel 6000 miles to see my hubby, the last thing I need is to be stopped on my way in there before I even see him because someone has decided to change the visitor clothing rule, or to have our visit terminated because one of us has touched too far up the other's arm. Not responding to simple and polite questions, particularly written ones, is just plain rude, and not the behaviour I expect from someone in authority. I can only assume that they have something to hide.

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly the state general fund does not get any revenue from this bill. It goes to Victims of violent crimes .But we will have to monitor the phones which is going to cost us money. And they are asking for 1 phone for every 30 convicts, They estimate it will bring in 15 million the first year. This is retarded sounds like someone got there hand in the cookie jar waiting to pull out a wad of cash when no one is looking.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe that Sunray's wench drives 6000 (6 thousand) miles to see her husband..where does she live??? In Europe or Hawaii????

Gritsforbreakfast said...

She's in England.

Anonymous said...

All of this talk about phones is great. I, for one, hope the bill gets past the Governor. I am an ex-con, and I believe that having the phones will serve several purposes. One, it will be an incentive for the inmate to act right. Two, it frees up the guards that are spending hours every day to monitor already existing inmate calls, and finally, it brings in some much needed money for the prison system.

TDJO and Sunray's Wench hit on something even more important than the phone calls too (although I think TDJO should find another job). Education! Learning to write. The prison system used to offer many educational programs. "Used to" being the key phrase there. They cut most of the educational programs to a bare minimum now. It is a statistically proven fact that the higher the education an inmate gets, the less likely he/she is to return to prison. Doesn't that tell the general public anything? Some day, most of the inmates are going to get out of prison and they may end up in your neighborhood. Do you want an uneducated, pissed off at the world ex-con living next door to you? Or would you rather have an educated, productive member of society that has made a mistake in his/her past but bettered themselves through education living next door? So, can someone please tell me how they justified cutting education in prison to a bare minimum?