Governor promises examination of prison phone contacts |

Governor promises examination of prison phone contacts

Staff Reports

After being told the prison system is making more than $200,000 a month from inmate phone calls, Gov. Kenny Guinn promised Tuesday to take a good look at the contract.

The issue came up as the Board of Examiners approved a new contract for prison phone services with MCI.

Prisoners’ rights activist Pat Hines told the board she objects to the 51 percent “kickback” the Department of Prisons gets from the contract because the cost of phone services “is a severe hardship to families.”

She also suggested the contract should include language that gives prison inmates the chance to learn job skills in telecommunications they can use when they are released.

But her primary concern focused on the cost of inmate calls to the outside world. She said a 15-minute call from a Nevada prison to Savanna, Ga., came to $29, and that price is a burden on inmates who want to stay in touch with their families.

Guinn said he couldn’t judge the situation until he takes a look at her specific complaints.

“We shouldn’t be making this kind of money off the backs of the families,” he said.

Prison Director Bob Bayer pointed out that the Public Utilities Commission sets the rates for services. He said some of the extra cost in the prison contract has to do with security issues and controlling whom inmates can call and what they can do by phone.

He also pointed out that the revenue from the contract goes into the inmate fund for the benefit of the general prison population.

The board approved the contract with MCI, but Guinn indicated he would have Bayer provide him more data on how much different types of calls cost inmates and what the money generated is used for.

In other business, a proposed $550,000 settlement for a prison employee terminated because of a disability was removed from the agenda. Budget Director Perry Comeaux said a new U.S. Supreme Court decision issued less than a month ago “puts that case in a different light.”

Prison guard Robert Robison sued and won a jury decision that he was discriminated against after suffering back pain and difficulties lifting.

Since he was probationary, prison officials terminated him, saying he couldn’t be a correctional officer. The judgment was $655,000 which the state negotiated down rather than trying to appeal. The Attorney General’s Office asked time to take a look at the new decision and decide whether the award should be paid or appealed.