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Old 09-24-2002, 09:22 AM
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danielle danielle is offline
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Default Alabama - Officials defend cost of collect calls from jails

Officials defend cost of collect calls from jails
The Associated Press
9/24/02 1:46 AM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Michelle Crispin used to talk on the telephone to her godsister, who is locked up at the Tuscaloosa County Jail.
After phone bills of up to $300 a month, though, Crispin has stopped accepting her godsister's collect calls and started making the five-minute drive to see her, trying to avoid the high costs that plague many people with friends or relatives in Alabama jails.
Coins and calling cards are not accepted at the jails, so people on the outside bear the cost of inmates' staying in touch.
A 15-minute local call from a jail in Alabama costs $2.85, or 19 cents a minute. That's almost $90 a month for one daily local call, and long-distance calls cost 30 cents a minute more.
It's a cost that primarily affects the poor, inmate advocates say, since many people who call regularly from jail haven't been able to make bail.
"It's a poverty issue in many ways," Lucia Penland, director of the Prison Project in Alabama, told the Tuscaloosa News. Groups like Penland's are trying to lower the cost of calling by reducing or eliminating commissions that phone companies pay to the county jails and state prisons.
But jail and prison officials say the commissions are a necessary source of revenue.
"I have to use the phone revenue to offset the expenses these inmates bring us," Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ted Sexton said. He said his jail received $176,000 in commissions from its telephone provider, Evercom Systems Inc., last year.
That 13 cents a call helps pay for drug and psychological counseling and GED training for inmates -- programs that likely would be cut rather than funded by taxpayers if the commissions disappeared, Sexton said.
"Taxpayers tell me they pay enough for inmates now," he said.
Statistics for how much money Alabama's 67 county jails make from telephone revenue were not available. The Department of Corrections said state prisons generate about $500,000 a month in commissions.
John Viola, vice president and general manager for Evercom, which provides phone services for about two-thirds of the state's county jails, said the company makes a "decent return" from its jail operations. The company has to make up for uncollectable accounts, which Viola said make up about 25 of the company's accounts.
"Twenty-five cents on the dollar is significant," he said.
Lauderdale County administrator said the county's $90,000 in annual commissions help pay for the jail's $1.4 million of costs.
"That's a good source of revenue," she said.
Etowah County jail administrator Wes Williamson said phone commissions go toward basic hygienic items such as toothpaste.
Inmate advocate groups say counties could let inmates use prepaid phone cards or a debit system -- which they say also would eliminate the uncollectable accounts.
But Sexton said eliminating the commissions would only hurt the inmates.
"What we'd consider is taking them out," he said
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Monica Danielle
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On September 22, 2003, my better half came home after 657 days in an Alabama prison!!!

And he's now forever free - passing away from this life and into the next - on January 9, 2010.

My Sweet Wayne
January 21, 1954 - January 9, 2010

I'll always love you.
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