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Nevada Phone Contract Reduces Costs to Prisoners’ Families But Increases State’s Kickback

Nevada Phone Contract Reduces Costs to Prisoners’ Families But Increases State’s Kickback

by David M. Reutter

A panel headed by Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons has approved a contract that reduces the cost of in-state collect calls from prisoners, but maintains exorbitant rates for out-of-state calls. The contract also increases the kickback percentage the state receives from its new prison phone service provider.

In February 2008, Nevada’s Board of Examiners approved a $7.2 million, 3-year contract with EMBARQ, a Kansas-based communications company, to provide collect-only phone services to Nevada’s 13,000 prisoners.

Under the contract, prisoners’ families will pay $1.45 for a local call that lasts 16 minutes. The price for a long distance in-state call will be $2.73. Those costs are down from the previous rates of $1.89 and $4.48, respectively. Prisoners who make out-of-state calls will continue to face price gouging, however, as such calls will cost $16.14, which is only slightly less than the $18.00 cost under MCI, the previous phone service provider.

In response to critics who decried such high rates, Governor Gibbons said, “if you don’t want to pay those prices, don’t go to prison.” His bureaucratic response ignored the fact that collect calls are paid “from nowhere but off the backs of the families” of prisoners, observed Pat Hines of Las Vegas-based Friends and Families of Incarcerated Persons.

“It’s a tough call,” said Gibbons, presumably with no pun intended, when asked about the costs incurred by prisoners’ families. Actually it’s an expensive call that is hard for family members to accept, as they typically have low incomes.

The EMBARQ contract also increases the state’s kickback for revenue generated from prison phone calls from 52% to 54%. Gibbons said a portion of that revenue goes to a welfare fund “that is used to cover the costs of a library and other services for prisoners.”

Telecommunications companies argue that security features are the reason for higher prison phone rates. Those features limit the length of calls and the numbers that can be called, and include monitoring and recording functions.

What the companies and prison officials fail to explain is why there is such a discrepancy in costs based solely upon distance. Intra-state calls require all of the same security features as long distance calls, yet the latter are much more expensive. Further, phone calls made from federal prisons cost just seven cents per minute – so why aren’t such low rates available to state prisoners?

The bottom line is that state officials are effectively imposing a tax on citizens who accept collect calls from prisoners. As a result, cost-prohibitive prison phone rates contribute to a breakdown in family relationships that otherwise would help prisoners stay out of trouble once they are released. But at least the state profits from this socially irresponsible arrangement.

Source: Associated Press

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