Lower inmate call costs create issues
December 19, 2013
A ruling that limits how much inmates must pay to use prison phones will pull an estimated $650,000 a year from revenues that fund inmate programs, the Board of Prison Commissioners was told Tuesday.
The reason is a new Federal Communications Commission decision mandating lower costs to keep in contact with those on the outside. The money will have to come from the $4.6 million a year in inmate revenues generated primarily by prison concessions.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, chairman of the Board of Prison Commissioners, and prison officials agreed there is value in lowering phone rates to let inmates maintain ties for when they get out.
"The high cost of making phone calls is a barrier to inmates connecting with families," Sandoval said.
Prison Director Greg Cox said, however, that if other programs have to be cut back, that also will cause problems for inmates. He said his wardens think many of the programs funded by inmate revenues are morale boosters that help reduce problems in managing inmates.
Sandoval described that as a safety issue for prison staffers.
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The existing prison contract for phone service charges inmates a $1 connection fee and 13 cents a minute for local, in-state and U.S. calls.
Under the FCC ruling, which applies nationwide, there will be no connection fees for local, Nevada and U.S. calls and a 12-cents-per-minute charge.
The international call rates of $3.50 to connect and 79 cents a minute won't change.
While phone service providers have tried appealing or delaying the ruling, Department of Corrections fiscal deputy Scott Sisco said the FCC has thus far refused.
Lowering the phone rates reduces the amount of inmate-generated revenue the state receives, he said. Estimates of the loss range from $400,000 to nearly $900,000 — projecting an overall annual loss of about $650,000, Sisco said.
Those revenues are used for such things as law library, gym management and educational support personnel; operating law libraries and equipping the gymnasiums in the system; indigent-inmate postage; education programs; TV services for inmates; and "gate money" — the cash inmates are given to start their new lives when they are released.
Sandoval told Sisco and Cox he thinks an argument can be made that some of those services should be provided for by the state, not from inmate funds. But he said that is something Corrections officials and his staff will have to work through in building the next budget.
He also questioned charging inmate funds for things such as gymnasium rental.
There will be no real impact to this fiscal year's budget because the system has enough money to cover costs through June 30, Cox said.
He said he and his staff will develop recommendations on how to handle funding inmate services in time for the governor and his administrative staff to consider them in developing the next biennial budget.