On Friday, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice unanimously voted in favor of a new phone contract that will cut the cost of calls for inmates and their families by 77 percent, from 26 cents per minute to 6 cents per minute. The new contract will also extend the length of calls from 20 minutes to 30 minutes. Effective September 1st, a 30-minute phone call will cost around $1.80, instead of $7.80.
I am thrilled to hear the Board is making this move. Prior to the Board’s decision today, Texas ranked 47th in the nation in phone call affordability. In our recent report, “An Unsupported Population: The Treatment of Women in Texas’ Criminal Justice System,” TCJC highlighted the exorbitant cost of phone calls in Texas prisons and recommended that these fees be eliminated.
In making this change, the Board is greatly reducing the financial burden these fees have historically placed on inmates and their families—who are often already financially strained. On August 3rd, in a letter to Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Bryan Collier, Texas House Corrections Committee Chairman James White urged for the negotiation of a more cost-efficient contract, saying, “research overwhelmingly substantiates the powerful impact that positive and strong family connectivity has on rehabilitation…” Thank you to Chairman White for seeing the value in family unity, and thank you to Director Collier for negotiating a drastically lower rate!
And while today is a great day for inmates and their loved ones, there is always more work to be done. Cost is not the only prohibitive factor when it comes to phone calls. In order for an incarcerated person to be able to sign up to call someone who uses a cell phone, the cell phone owner must agree that they are at least 18 years old, that they will not allow another adult who is not on the approved calling list to speak to the incarcerated person, that they will not forward calls, and that they will not make a 3-way call while the incarcerated person is on the phone. If a loved one receives an inmate call and another person is present that has not gone through this process, the phone cannot be passed around. When going through the approval process, an operator must be able to call the cell phone owner’s phone company, verify the person’s name and address on the account, and wait a few days to verify approval.
Anyone with a prepaid phone is ineligible to receive calls from a TDCJ inmate because the name and address of the owner of the mobile account cannot be verified. As of spring 2017, approximately 49 million people in the U.S. used a prepaid phone. None of these people could accept phone calls from an inmate in TDCJ without purchasing post-paid phone service or using another person’s phone that has successfully gone through the verification process. Comparatively, federal inmates are allowed to call virtually anyone they have a phone number for, and there is no such policy requiring loved ones to register to receive calls. In time, I hope to see these barriers to family unity addressed as well.