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San Diego Jail Approves Free Phone and Video Calls

The County of San Diego Board of Supervisors (Board) voted unanimously February 27, 2021 to stop charging prisoners and detainees in county jails and juvenile detention centers for phone calls. The initiative called for the Board to develop a plan by May 4 which prohibited the county from generating revenue from phone calls and to find funding to replace that lost revenue. Effective July 1, 2021, all jail prisoners can make unlimited phone and video calls to day with each phone call being limited to 15 minutes and video calls limited to 30 minutes.

San Diego County Jail (SDCJ) contracts with Securus Technologies for phone services. Prior to the change, costs ran from 21 cents per minute for prepaid interstate calls to 33 cents per minute for local and intrastate calls. Detainees were also charged $2.50 for a 20-minute video visit, $2.00 for voice mail messaging, and several different service fees for account maintenance. Under the current contract, the county makes $2.8 million each year which is used to operate juvenile detention centers, pay for educational programs, manage indigent supplies, and more.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer introduced the proposal, stating that it was morally wrong to generate revenue in this fashion. The County jail holds about 5,000 people on any given day, many of them indigent. Of that number, 70% have not yet been convicted of a crime or are awaiting sentencing. Innocent people are being punished without cause.

Research shows that family connections are vital for those in jail. Constant contact reduces recidivism and the potential for violence while detained. Statistics show that many detainees prematurely sign plea agreements or admit guilt simply to expedite their time spent in the county jail.

Families of those held in county jails have called in large numbers in support of this proposal. Priscilla Alvarez said her brother held in SDCJ must choose between calling her and purchasing necessities such as stamps and soap. Karen O’Connor asked how many could have been helped with the additional contact. “I can’t help but wonder how many inmates might not have attempted or succeeded in suicide if they had more access to their families via phone,” she stated. “Or how many who are frustrated by the system and ultimately get in more trouble while incarcerated could have been reassured by a family member on the phone and deescalated.” “All of those human connections are just so vital,” said Lawson-Rremer.

San Diego will be the second county in California to offer free phone services to detainees. San Francisco has already prohibited jails from profiting off of phone services. New York City made calls from detention centers free in August of 2018. 

Source:, WTOL,

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