Free prison calls pro­posal prompts ven­dor rate re­view

The News-Times - - OPINION - By Lisa Backus

Af­ter a talk with state prison of­fi­cials, Se­cu­rus Tech­nolo­gies, the ven­dor for Con­necti­cut’s in­mate phone ser­vice, says it is will­ing to of­fer ways to cut the cost of calls home.

“I was pleased with the tenor and progress of the dis­cus­sion,” said Marc Pelka, the state’s Un­der­sec­re­tary of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice for the Of­fice of Pol­icy and Man­age­ment.

The com­pany has pro­vided the state Depart­ment of Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vices with sev­eral op­tions to rene­go­ti­ate the con­tract to make calling more af­ford­able for in­mates and their fam­i­lies, ac­cord­ing to Joanna Aco­cella, vice pres­i­dent of cor­po­rate af­fairs for Se­cu­rus.

“We are cur­rently en­gaged in dis­cus­sions with the State of Con­necti­cut about how best to ad­vance our shared goal of mak­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions safer, more ac­ces­si­ble and more af­ford­able,” Aco­cella said.

The is­sue arose af­ter fam­i­lies of in­mates came for­ward dur­ing a pub­lic hear­ing in March be­fore the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee ask­ing leg­is­la­tors to sup­port HB 6714, which would make prison phone ser­vice free.

The calls cost in­mates’ fam­i­lies more than $3.50 to $4.50 for 15 min­utes. The state re­ceives a 68 per­cent com­mis­sion on all in-state calls to­tal­ing more than $7.7 mil­lion a year. The com­pany has been mak­ing about $5.5 mil­lion a year as part of the deal.

The com­mit­tee sent the bill to the House in early April.

But some leg­is­la­tors were re­luc­tant be­cause of its fi­nan­cial implicatio­ns. Passing the bill would cause a $7.7 mil­lion hole in state rev­enue and re­quire the state Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tion to foot the $5.5 mil­lion an­nual bill for the phone ser­vice.

Since 2011, the DOC has re­ceived about $350,000 a year from the calls to pay for in­mate pro­grams. The Ju­di­cial Branch gets about $6 mil­lion a year from them to fund 32 pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers — a lit­tle less than 10 per­cent of the 388 pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials in that agency.

In ad­di­tion, for the past sev­eral years, the state’s Crim­i­nal Jus­tice In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem, a mas­sive tech­nol­ogy sys­tem that is sup­posed to link po­lice, pros­e­cu­tors, the ju­di­cial sys­tem, pro­ba­tion and pa­role to share in­for­ma­tion on crimes and de­fen­dants, has de­rived about 50 per­cent of its $5 mil­lion op­er­at­ing bud­get from the prison phone calls.

CJIS had been hop­ing to cull even more money from the phone ser­vice to pay op­er­a­tional costs in the next fis­cal year, ac­cord­ing to its ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

At an April meet­ing be­tween the DOC, OPM and the Depart­ment of Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vices, Pelka says Se­cu­rus agreed to re­view the cur­rent con­tract, which was re­cently ex­tended to 2021, and pro­vide the state with some cost-sav­ing op­tions.

“As a re­sult of the leg­is­la­tion, it has ac­ti­vated peo­ple to work on this is­sue,.” Pelka said.

It wouldn’t be the first time Se­cu­rus has re­struc­tured a con­tract to help in­mates save money. The city of New York agreed in July 2018 to change its con­tract with Se­cu­rus to pro­vide free phone calls from all city pris­ons. At any given time, the city has about 10,000 in­mates who are ei­ther de­tained for pre-trial pro­ceed­ings or sen­tenced to one year or less in jail. The cost of the calls would pro­vide the city about $5 mil­lion in rev­enue and $2.5 mil­lion for the ser­vice un­der the old con­tract, ac­cord­ing to a memo from the city’s Fi­nance Di­vi­sion. The city now pays Se­cu­rus for the ser­vice and does not make any rev­enue.

Elim­i­nat­ing the com­mis­sion made by the state is one op­tion Se­cu­rus is of­fer­ing, Aco­cella said. Un­der that sce­nario, the state would pay for the cost of calls, not in­mates, with the com­pany charg­ing some of the low­est calling rates in the na­tion, she said.

“Once the state se­lects a fund­ing op­tion, we will work with them to of­fer the most af­ford­able ser­vices pos­si­ble while still cov­er­ing the tech­nol­ogy and mon­i­tor­ing needed to pre­vent mis­use of com­mu­ni­ca­tions tools and pro­tect pub­lic safety,” Aco­cella said.

Julie Jacobson / As­so­ci­ated Press

In­mate Lance Shaver talks on the phone in 2017 at the Al­bany County Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity in Al­bany, N.Y.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.