The Texas Legislature approved phone service for prisons last year, with proponents calling the easily granted and retracted privilege "a marvelous tool for discipline." Fees from prisoners and families will pay for the system and generate additional revenue streams for the state:
The Texas Board of Criminal Justice has voted to allow prison inmates to use telephones on a prepaid and collect-call basis.
The action Thursday ends the nation's last ban on regular phone use by state prisoners.
About 120,000 Texas inmates will each be allowed to purchase up to 120 minutes of phone time a month. The privilege will not be extended to an estimated 36,000 inmates with disciplinary problems or gang affiliations, or those on death row.
Currently, most state prisoners are allowed only one five-minute collect call every 90 days.
The new system will allow calls of up to 15 minutes.
Texas is the last U.S. state not to give prisoners regular phone access.
State officials have long feared that "allowing the inmates to have access to telephones could allow them to continue their criminal enterprises outside the prison walls," said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
"There also was a concern that they also would be able to contact their victims. But technology has advanced to a point where those concerns are really no longer valid."
Embarq's proposal includes technology that will allow prison officials to monitor and record calls, except those between inmates and their attorneys.
Calls will be limited to friends and family on the prisoner's approved list of visitors. Calls to victims or their families will be prohibited.
Inmates or their families can prepay for telephone calls at rates of 23 cents for in-state calls and 39 cents for out-of-state calls. Collect calls will be 26 cents and 43 cents, respectively.
International and cell phone calls will not be allowed.
A spokesman for Embarq said the system will be phased in at more than 100 prisons over the next year.
The company, which handles prison phone contracts in five other states, will keep 60 percent of the Texas revenues generated, with the remainder to be divided between the state's general fund and the Crime Victims Compensation Fund.This is good news that TDCJ is finally moving forward. Texas may be the last state in the union to offer phone access to well-behaved prisoners, but for my money, better late than never.