Thursday, January 24, 2008

New rules for TDCJ phone service approved; bids to be solicited soon

Nearly a decade into the 21st century, Texas prisons will finally enter the 20th and install phones soon in all TDCJ units, thanks to legislation approved by the 80th Texas Legislature.

Nearly 80% of Texas prison inmates will qualify for phone privileges under new rules promulgated yesterday by TDCJ, AP reports ("Texas prisoners on verge of getting regular phone privileges," Jan. 24):

The Texas Board of Criminal Justice on Wednesday approved rules governing use of telephones, and agency officials said they would draw up within a few days proposals for bids from companies hoping to land a contract to install and manage the phones in the nation's second-largest corrections system.

Texas is believed to be the only state not to have such a phone operation. Prison administrators traditionally had opposed routine phone privileges, arguing telephone access raised security and staffing concerns.

But state lawmakers, saying technology had overcome the long-standing uneasiness, overwhelmingly passed a measure last year that directed prison officials have a phone system contract in hand by Aug. 31.

"We're following what we were told to do," said Christina Melton Crain, chairman of the prison board. "During the last legislative session, the state leadership mandated that the board and agency put such a phone system in place.

"The implementation of these policies is the first step toward making this mandate a reality."

Following the bill's passage, Gov. Rick Perry said he had misgivings the measure would allow pedophiles and violent offenders among the state's some 155,000 inmates to have phone access, but he chose not to veto it because he believed prison officials could set up appropriate rules governing phone use. The measure had passed unanimously in the Senate and cleared the House by a vote of 142-1. ...

Some corrections experts believe the availability of phone communication allows inmates to keep in regular touch with relatives, that allowing continued phone access can be used as an incentive for good behavior by a convict, and that it can ease the financial strain on relatives who want to visit an inmate in a prison far from them.

How much it would cost people receiving the calls is not known, Livingston said. The rules allow friends and relatives to purchase time for phone use that an inmate could use like a debit card.

The vendor will install and manage the system and the state will get a portion of the revenue. The first $10 million each year from commissions generated by the calls is to go to the state Crime Victims Compensation Fund.

The Legislative Budget Board last year estimated annual revenue about $5.8 million, meaning all of the money would go into the victims fund. If revenue topped $10 million, 50 percent of the excess would go to the compensation fund and the other 50 percent to the state's general fund.

The rules don't overly restrict an inmate's phone access but do limit calls to people on a preapproved phone list for each inmate.

In general, prisoners eligible to make calls would have to be free of major disciplinary violations within the previous 90 days, have a prison job, be in school or in a treatment program. Officials believe that accounts for about 120,000 inmates. One phone will be installed for each 30 inmates, meaning about 4,000 phones will be put in common areas of prisons like day rooms.

Calls would be allowed only within the continental U.S. and could be made only to land lines, not cell phones.

Inmates would have unlimited calls but couldn't exceed more than 15 minutes per call and 120 minutes per month. Calls to an inmate's lawyer of record, protected under attorney-client privilege, would not be monitored or recorded.

Under the current procedures, inmates with good behavior records are allowed one five-minute collect call to an approved person every 90 days and only with the permission of a warden. When the call is made, a prison staff member is in the room to monitor the call, a labor-intensive procedure that takes the employee away from other duties.

The phone system also is seen as a way to combat a growing problem of cell phones being smuggled into the state's prisons.

I couldn't find a copy of the policy on TDCJ's website, but in general I favor the plan for a number of reasons not mentioned in the article: It helps maintain family ties, reduces cell phone smuggling, and provides a significant incentive for good behavior among inmates. I'm also hoping more regular phone access will increase information to family members and ultimately the public about problems inside TDCJ; it's a lot harder to cover things up when prisoners have a way to tell somebody in the free world what's happening.

We've seen a surge in prisoners sending letters home that friends and family members use to create prisoner blogs; maybe when this new technology is in place we'll see audio podcasts from prisoners calling home. Wouldn't that be something?

Concerns about the phones' use for criminal purposes, to me, are mitigated by the restricted calling list and recording conversations (except attorney calls). With those restrictions in place, I think the benefits far outweigh the detriments. The agency will put out a request for bids for the project, AP reports, within the next week.


Anonymous said...

The new phone service is good for corrections but I doubt it'll curb cell phone smuggling.

Anonymous said...

woo hoo, texas joins the rest of the country in providing a compassionate
perk to the FAMILIES of the incarcerated. These convicts have broken the law in many different ways,
but their mothers, among others, still love them and want to hear from them...not to mention their INFIRM relations who may never be able to visit them in person.

I believe the placement of the first 10 million in profit to the victims compensation fund is a the corrections officers a bonus or a raise from it!!!

Anonymous said...

I would like to see a concrete reason why inmates cannot make calls to outside the US, especially as the recipiant of the call would most likely be the one paying for it (and in our case, any other call made by the inmate). If all calls have to be to approved phone numbers of people already on visitation lists, then what is the problem? UK cell phone numbers, unlike US ones, do not start with the local area code so they are far easier to spot. Or could it be that the phone company who gets to final contract probably wont be able to cream off any extra charges from overseas phone users so we arent worth the hassle?

Anonymous said...

Sunray raises a good question. Since numbers are pre approved, what's the problem?

I'll bet a lot of folks in prison have loved ones in other countries.....Mexico, Canada, UK, just to mention a few. A lot of revenue is being lost by someone because of this.

The new rules have been approved but we don't know what they are or why they were or were not approved. So much for freedom of information!

Anonymous said...

The state has just now realized this as a revenue generating resource. That's what it all about. It is not a compassionate perk to the familes because the cost of a call, which by the way, will be a collect call, is outrageously high.
It will not cut down on telephones being smuggled in because cell phone conversations are not recorded, jail calls are. It will promote 3 way calling which will enable a crime victim to be contacted.

Anonymous said...

The technology enables the call to be immediately disconnected if a 3-way call is attempted. County jails and the Feds already do this. If you read the article, you will see that they are still debating whether to have collect calls or to have a separate inmate account that families can pay into for phone credits. I would prefer the second account option, even though we wont get calls anyway.

Anonymous said...

to 7:20/1/26: The State realized in the mid 80's that the telephones would generate a lot of revenue (at the time the estimate was ten million a year). I believe the reasons the inmate phone system was not initiated then was:
1. The politicians didn't want to look like they had become "soft" towards the inmates.

2. The politicians didn't want to upset their prison building plans.

We were told by the "Austinites" that an inmate phone system was coming regardless of our recommendations.

My main concern was that inmates' families would be paying very high rates for the phone calls; rates that most could not afford.

I believe the 15 million estimate is flawed. I cannot believe the inmate population has more than tripled and rates have gone up since the 80's; yet the estimated revenue is only five million more.

The spec's on this request for bids should be interesting. I wonder what corporation will land the contract?

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

Retired, what's you view on overseas calls?

Anonymous said...

With the unlimited calling offered by they send you a toll free number and forward the calls to that number to a phone the inmate the US or abroad. You don't have to smuggle a cell phone....just have the ability to remenber the number they send you.

Anonymous said...

keiser, there are several companies that offer phone numbers in the local area to the prison, and if the DoCs find out then the phone priviledges are withdrawn. We used one for a while when Hubby was in county jail but I would be very reluctant to use it again, especially with a state-of-the-art phone system that is built to detect minute delays in connection.

Unknown said...

Has anyone heard if Administrative segregation will have access to phones ? Some of those prisoners haven't had human contact for over decade . Scary thought they might get out and not have had the benefit of a simple re-intergretion to soceity as a phone call

Anonymous said...

3-way calls to Voice Over Internet Phones (VOIP) such as Vonage, Skype numbers, etc. cannot be detected - contrary to the providers of the inmate telephone service. If an inmate calls such a phone, a silent conference to anybody in the world over the Internet can be done in 3-5 seconds with no noise or clicks and no possible detection. Also, cellphones are becoming prevalent for home phones and thus calls to them cannot be stopped. Guess what folks, inmates can now call virtually anybody they want to....
With recidivism running 60-70% in Texas, do you think inmates won't be conducting more crimes from inmate phones which means more police will be needed and the public loses again. Rehabilitation doesn't work or recidivism would be far less. Wake up Texas!

Anonymous said...

ok Well As useual Texas of course has found a way to profit for the use of the phones.
Other states just make them Collect pay phones only why should anyone profit this is why they will still try to smuggle in phones so they can do it cheaper does the state really have to put thier hand in the pockect of the criminal watch out there Might be something in there you can get poked on.
I understand but it wasnt the family of the criminal who broke the law why should they be the ones to pay the outragous prices of the phonecards so there will be profit sorry Perry Shame on you you dont win here you are robbing the criminials Families they should have a sentence for that.
The Phones should be collect calls only then the reciver could deny the call and save the money have all the power if im Mom and I put 20 bucks on a card I dont want my kid Calling his Friends

Anonymous said...

god bless texas r god damn texas everyone is somebodys child and needs to call home gee thanks rick perry