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Texas Prison System Slashes Price of Inmate Phone Calls by 77 Percent, Contractor to Set Up Video Phones

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Perhaps not coincidentally during a #NationalPrisonStrike2018, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on Friday voted to drastically slash the cost of calls from prison inmates by more than 75 percent, a boon to the cash-strapped black and brown communities that feed the prison industrial complex.

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Angela Davis put it best: “Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison...”

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The Houston Chronicle reports that families will now only pay 6 cents per minute versus an average of 26, no matter where the call goes. The time limit on phone calls is now half an hour as opposed to 20 minutes.

Currently, a 15-minute call usually costs around $3.90, officials said at the TBCJ meeting. Starting Sept. 1 when the new contract takes effect, a typical 15-minute call will cost 90 cents.

The Chronicle reports that last year, a federal court struck down an Obama-era Federal Communications Commission rule that would have capped the costs at 11 cents per minute.

State Rep. James White, the East Texas Republican who chairs the House Committee on Corrections, cheered the new changes.

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“They are making some very, very significant changes that will impact recidivism, rehabilitation and ultimately will increase safe communities in Texas,” said White.

Of course Texas being Texas, there’s always a law-and-order wrinkle. The Chronicle reports:

As mandated by state law, the contractor gets 60 percent of the phone revenue and the state gets 40 percent. Of that 40 percent, the first $10 million must go to the Texas Crime Victims Compensation Fund. After that first $10 million, half goes to the victims fund and the other half goes to the state’s general fund.

During fiscal year 2017, the phone system brought in $14.49 million for the victim fund and $4.49 million for general revenue, according to department data.

None of the money from the phone system goes back to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

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Century Link was awarded the seven-year contract. According to the terms of the contract, Century Link will update existing hardware and also install new technology for video visitation at 12 units, according to prison officials.

Wonder how much that’s going to cost?

“The new (offender telephone system) contract is going to benefit not only family of offenders who are hoping to stay connected, but enhance the agency’s focus on re-entry,” said prison system executive director Bryan Collier. “The system is used to maintain relationships with friends and family that are a vital part of a successful re-entry and reintegration of offenders into the community.”

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More than 127,000 prisoners currently make use of the phone system, and 172,000 friends and families are signed up to receive roughly 1.5 million calls per month from behind bars.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.

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