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Calling Home is Big Business in Texas Prisons

We have previously covered the private telephone contracts that have been installed throughout Texas’ state prison system.  According to Securus Technologies, Inc.  the phone installation was the  largest of its kind and represented the most lucrative phone contract ever signed in the prison telecommunications sector.  Additionally the contract involves:

  • Seven (7) year term with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;
  • Installation of nearly 5,500 phones to make outgoing phone calls;
  • 120,000 Texas prisoners were considered eligible for the privilege.  That is 70% of the current prison population which numbered over 172,000 late last year.  Presumably the prisoners not eligible for the privilege are excluded because of inmate classification policies; and
  • According to the company the telephone installation took about a year and required an investment of $30 million.

However, with a market of 120,000 prisoners the potential to earn a return on the investment is more than likely.  In fact, Mike Ward of the Austin American-Statesman ("Inmates get e-mail? Lawmakers want details," May 7th) reported earlier this month that telephone profits generated approximately $2.1 million in revenue from September 2009 thru May 2010; compared with $200,000 during the previous year – prior to the completion of the installation.

Ward also addressed a little known policy that allows Texas prisoners to receive e-mails.  Legislators reported to be exploring the policy and the details of the contract.  According to the Statesman, 111,000 e-mails were sent to state prisons.

At the federal level, the Bureau of Prisoners has permitted prisoners to receive emails for a while.  And other state prison systems like Colorado and Ohio have similar policies.  In theory allowing prisoners to receive email would make it easier for correctional officials to deliver and monitor prisoner communication.

Since installing the telephone and email system, TDCJ has established rules and procedures that govern the privileges.  Those rules include:

Phones are available from 7:00 AM – 10:00 PM, unless conditions dictate a change;

  • Calls are limited to 15 minutes;
  • To receive calls, the telephone number owner must be listed on the prisoner’s Visitors List. Additionally, the name on the Visitors List must match the name on registrant’s driver’s license or state identification card. Additionally, this information must also be reflected on their telephone listing or bill; and
  • Families and friends can enroll in the program online here

We have been alerted that some folks are having issues with the program including difficulties getting their phone numbers approved and other issues. We will be exploring these reported issues and making information available as we learn of it.

While issues may be surfacing with the current telephone contracts it is surely better than what was previously in place – which was no telephone contact at all.  However, the costs to prisoner’s families have been a widely discussed topic for years in states that have had telephone policies in place.

So in Texas we will continue to monitor these policies and their impact on prisoners and their families.  Stay tuned!

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