by Monte McCoin
In a bold move designed to reduce cell phone trafficking and improve rehabilitative efforts, on January 2, 2018, French officials opened the bidding process for a telecom provider to install landline telephones in each of 50,000 cells in 178 prisons. The justice ministry said the program was being launched after “successful tests of this experiment” at a facility in Montmedy in northeast France.
Authorities noted a 31% drop in contraband cell phone seizures since installing phones in cells at Montmedy in July 2016, compared with the same period a year earlier.
“The phones have eased tensions inside the prison,” the ministry said. “It helps with civil reintegration, by maintaining family ties,” it added, saying the main goal was to “cut cell phone trafficking.”
The International Prison Observatory, a French advocacy group, welcomed the move but criticized the high cost of making calls. “A phone in each cell allows a degree of intimacy when speaking with family members,” noted François Bes, a member of the organization. “More important, the fact that you can call when you want can let them speak with children after school,” she said. The new freedom that allows prisoners to call up to four pre-approved numbers at any time of day won’t come cheap, though – calls could cost up to 80 euro cents ($.97) a minute. Even after the cost was renegotiated at Montmedy down to about 65 cents per minute, “that’s still way too expensive for most inmates,” Bes warned.
The new phone system has also raised concerns among corrections staff. “With several people in a cell, how are we going to manage any conflicts over [phone] access?” asked Jean-Francois Forget of the UFAP-UNSa Justice union, which represents prison guards.
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