Provide Paid Telephone Services for Inmates in Texas Prisons

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice should contract with suppliers to provide inmate telephone services at no cost to the state.


Background
All states but Texas have telephone services for inmates in their prisons. These coinless pay phone services increase state revenue through commissions and provide benefits to inmates and their families, improve prisoner behavior and sometimes assist with rehabilitation.

Most Texas prison officials do not favor such systems. As a reward for good behavior, Texas inmates may make one outside call every three months. 1 Prison officials believe that service beyond this level is too risky. Texas prison officials are concerned about costs, security, fraud, harassment and other illegal activities, and they are in no hurry to embrace inmate phone services. Improved technolog y can meet these challenges and provide a safe, rehabilitative tool.

Nationwide, inmate telephone services have been around since the early 1970s. In the past, th ese services were quite costly for the prison system to operate because they required prison operator overtime and security personnel to assist with and monitor calls.

Advanced telephone technology has alleviated the security concerns of most other state prison administrators. In fact, the new technology assists prison administrators and law-enforcement officials with crime investigation and prevention. Automated-inmate- calling systems allow prison officials to monitor all calls made by inmates, track and cross-reference all telephone numbers, generate reports for investigative purposes, establish individual levels of access by inmates, restrict the number and length of the calls, establish personal identification numbers (PINs) and authorize calling lists for inmates. 2

Today s systems are fully automated, requiring no prison operators. An inmate s calling ability is completely controlled by an automated system and a site administrator provided by the phone company. The security staff are free to perfor m their normal functions. Phones are placed in convenient locations, such as indoor or outdoor recreation areas. There is no need for security monitors or escorts to and from phones. Automated functions, which require no security or operator staff hours, r educe operational costs.

With this type of system, all calls are collect without live operators. A computer-voice message advising the receiving party that the call is coming from a state prison precedes the collect message. Automated messages can be in English or Spanish. The system is designed to disconnect when it detects call forwarding or conference calls.

Site administrators are service-provider (telephone company) employees stationed at the prison unit. They set up inmate calling lists, verify numbers desired by the inmates, enter data for PINs and generate reports. The site administrator works closely w ith prison personnel providing system maintenance and investigative information. Because inmates have so much time on their hands to explore new and innovative ways to beat the system, site administrators can monitor calling patterns and immediately customize the automated technology to enhance security. 3


Recommendation
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division should enter into contracts with suppliers to provide, at no cost to the agency, inmate telephone services.


All commissions paid by the service providers, except for 5 percent, would be deposited in the General Revenue Fund. Five percent of commission would be dep osited in the Compensation to Victims of Crime Account. Article V, Section 37 of the General Appropriation Act would be amended so that the net proceeds generated from pay phones located at state prisons should be deposited in the General Revenue Fund and the Compensation Victims of Crime Account.


Implications
Many corrections experts believe the real value of inmate phone services is the access provided to inmates families. The telephone service permits them to maintain ties and even strengthen relatio nships during the period of incarceration. Since our prison system has expanded to all corners of the state, it has become more difficult for families to visit inmates. Corrections experts agree that ties to the family better prepare the inmate for a produ ctive return to society. Access to inmate telephone service is a privilege that may be given or taken away depending on an inmate s behavior. Such a service could provide additional incentive for inmates to obey the rules while in prison.

Opponents of this service argue that the collect calls may place a financial burden on inmates families. The site administrator can address any financial problems by automatically limiting duration and frequency of calls. In addition, most local exchange carriers work wi th families to create payment plans during the temporary period of the high telephone bills.

Another benefit of inmate telephone services is revenue generated from commissions paid by the service providers. Nationwide, inmates-phone-system commissions ran ge between 20 and 30 percent. Based on an estimated 20 percent commission, there could be $43 million in new revenue deposited in the General Revenue Fund over a five-year period. There would be no cost incurred by the state as suppliers of inmate telephon e services bear all costs of equipment, installation, maintenance and administration.


Fiscal Impact
Industry experts estimate the Texas inmate population will average $54 per month in telephone charges. 4 This estimate is based on other states experienc es, county jail experiences and demographic analysis of the Texas prison inmate population. 5 The Texas Performance Review estimate of $39.91 per month is based on the average of a three-state sample (California, Oklahoma and Florida). In addition to commission revenue, the state and local governments will gain additional sales tax revenue.

Gain to the Compensation
Fiscal Gain to the General to Victims of Crime Gain to Local Change in
Year Revenue Fund 001 Account 469 Governments FTEs

1994 $ 3,946,000 $156,000 $236,000 0
1995 9,039,000 358,000 540,000 0
1996 10,044,000 397,000 600,000 0
1997 10,044,000 397,000 600,000 0
1998 10,044,000 397,000 600,000 0



Endnotes
1 Interview with Randy McLeod, Senior Warden, Clements Prison Unit, Amarillo, Texas, December 4, 1992.
2 Inmate Telephone Service, prepared by AT&T, GTE, Southwestern Bell and TeleMatic Corp. for the Texas Performance Review, December 3, 1992, p. 12.
3 Ibid., p. 17.
4 Ibid., p. 22.
5 Interview with Craig Tredway, Account Executive, AT&T, Dallas, Texas, December 11, 1992.