$225,000 Windfall in Lehigh County, Pa. But Officials Don’t Cut Jail Phone Costs
Pinsley’s March 5, 2020, letter noted that research shows “that contact with families during incarceration is closely associated with a more successful reentry and a reduction in reoffending.” He noted that prisoners face “enormous social and economic challenges resulting from their time behind bars.”
Pinsley recommended “the county use these funds to either reduce the cost of calls or provide additional assistance.” The county also could “invest in preventive measures that reduce the likelihood of incarceration and violence in our communities. The scourge of violence, particularly which afflicts our inner-city communities has had a devastating impact on families and neighborhoods,” he wrote.
County Executive Phillips Armstrong and Director of General Services Rick Molchany said revenue the jail generates goes back into its operations. They also noted, without providing details, that they had bolstered efforts to reduce recidivism. Under the new contract, jail detainees still pay the same amount for calls. The cost ranges from 21 cents to 25 cents per minute for interstate calls and 19 cents for local calls.
“We’re doing everything he brought up, and we’re not charging more for calls,” Armstrong said.
According to a 2019 study by the Prison Policy Initiative, the national average cost of a 15-minute call from jail is $5.74. A jail in Arkansas had the highest cost at $24.82. These high costs put a burden on persons already facing financial difficulty — often a factor in the reason for the incarceration or the inability to post bond. Dallas County, Texas, set an example in February 2019. Its new phone call cut costs to 1 cent per minute, reducing the cost of a 15-minute call to $3.60.
Pinsley said Lehigh County has a “unique opportunity among the counties of Pennsylvania to set a precedent for investing in our incarcerated communities.” Instead, county officials elected to invest in the mass incarceration of the community.