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Florida DOC Cuts Prisoner Collect Call Costs by 30%

by David M. Reutter

For over 10 years, the family and friends of Florida prisoners have paid exorbitant costs to communicate with their imprisoned loved one. I dont think that's right, said interim secretary of Florida's Department of Corrections, James McDonough, upon hearing of those costs. Why are (the families of prisoners) being punished? In April 2006, McDonough took action to reduce those phone costs by 30%.

McDonough knows what it is like to be separated; he has three sons in the military overseas. He said he pays 3 cents a minute to make international calls.

In contrast, a collect call from a Florida prisoner to an in-state party costs $1.50 when you pick up the phone and 26 cents a minute after that. Calls out-of-state are upwards of $20 for a 15 minute call.

FDOC's contract with its phone vendor: Verizon/MCI requires that FDOC receive 53 percent of all call revenue. In fiscal year 2004-2005, FDOC netted $17.6 million in phone revenue. The reduction of 30 percent will reduce that take by about $10 million. Verizon/MCIs revenue will not be affected.

Although this action may in fact cause a decrease in the return to the general revenue fund, I feel this is the appropriate thing to do, said McDonough in a letter to lawmakers chairing Florida's House and Senate Committee overseeing FDOC's budget. However, by reducing the rates charged, it is anticipated the number of calls will also increase and may result in offsetting a portion of the revenue loss.

McDonough explained he took the action to reduce charges because he felt it was unjust to place a burden on family members of incarcerated individuals, an already generally disadvantaged section of the population. He has also scheduled to solicit bidders for a new phone contract in early 2007, a year ahead of schedule. McDonough has said he wants a contract tailored to have a less onerous impact upon those who accept collect calls from prisoners.

Florida prisoners are very appreciative. I think its great, said prisoner Donald Kelly. Its nice to see integrity and justice being restored to the secretarys office.

Prison watchdog groups feel the reduction of phone costs will make it easier for prisoners to maintain contacts with their social network. To better prepare inmates for release, they have to maintain community contacts, said Randall Berg, executive director of the Florida Justice Institute. This will result, in my opinion, in saving Florida money because it will hopefully cut recidivism.

Prisoners of Tomoka Correctional Institution are saying that their family will have more money from the reduction, but most are excited at the prospect of being able to call home more often. Either way, McDonough's move will result in a positive outcome for those impacted by incarceration in Florida.

Sources: Gainesville Sun; Palm Beach Post; Florida Prison Legal Perspectives

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