In August, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice answered a call for pay phones in Texas’ prison facilities by awarding a contract to a Kansas-based communications company for the installation and operation of a sophisticated and secure offender telephone system that will provide revenue to a state fund for compensating crime victims.
“We hope to implement the finest phone system in the nation,” Board Chairman Oliver Bell said following the awarding of the seven-year contract to Embarq, a company that operates telephone systems within prisons in five other states… “Properly implemented, this new system will be a national model.”
Texas is the last state to put pay phones in its prison facilities for regular offender use. Legislation passed in 2007 called for TDCJ to award a contract for the installation of the telephone system by September of this year. Fourteen TDCJ staff members representing seven different departments reviewed proposals from three bidders for the telephone system contract. Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ron Steffa said the Embarq bid was recommended primarily because it was “technically superior” to the others and offered the best overall value for the state.
“Historically, there have been many concerns about the implementation and impact of such a program in Texas,” Chairman Bell said… “The benefit of going last is that we have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before us.”
The pay phones will be installed in designated areas within the state’s prison facilities over 7 1/2 months at a ratio no greater than 30 eligible offenders per telephone. Once installed, eligible offenders will be allowed up to 120 minutes of phone time a month, with no one call lasting more than 15 minutes. Offenders will be limited to calling friends and family members who appear on his or her approved list of visitors. No calls to victims or their families will be permitted and all calls will be digitally recorded. Some offenders will not have access to the telephone system because of disciplinary problems, gang affiliations, or because they are on death row.
Eligible offenders and their family will be able to prepay for telephone calls at rates of 23 cents per minute in-state and 39 cents out-of-state. Collect calls placed within the state will cost 26 cents per minute, while out-of-state collect calls will be billed at a rate of 43 cents per minute. No international calls or calls to cell phones will be allowed.
Under the terms of the contract, the state will receive 40 percent of the gross billable revenue. The first $10 million received by the state will be deposited in the Crime Victim Compensation Fund, while all revenue beyond that will be split evenly between that fund and the state’s general revenue fund.