SF moves to slash price of jailhouse phone calls
A committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors endorsed a resolution today proposed by the San Francisco sheriff to lower the cost of phone calls for inmates at San Francisco jails.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi proposed a 70 percent reduction of costs for 15-minute collect and pre-paid collect in-state, long-distance calls from $13.35 to $4.05 and a 32 percent reduction for 15-minute debit, in state long-distance calls from $5.98 to $4.05 for inmates at city jails.
The proposal for an extended phone contract with Global Tel*Link was heard at the Board of Supervisors’ Government Audit and Oversight Committee meeting late Wednesday morning.
Supervisors David Chiu, Katy Tang and London Breed decided to move the resolution forward to the full board after hearing comments from the sheriff and San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi and members of the public.
Sheriff’s officials said the reduced rates are expected to increase calls by 20 percent. The calls are believed to strengthen inmates’ connections with loved ones.
The department aims to make phone calls more affordable in the hopes that they will help reduce return trips to jail. Nearly 40 percent of SF jail inmates are parents who use the phone to keep up with family members, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Throughout California, inmate telecom contracts generate revenue, which is used for inmate programs at local jails.
For San Francisco, the jail phone contract with Global Tel*Link that is up for extension into 2015, is expected to generate $3 million over its five-year term. The contract started June 1, 2010 and is up for second renewal until May 31, 2015 under the proposed terms.
The sheriff’s department recognizes that the proposed cost reduction will drop inmate program funding by about 20 percent. Despite the reduction, Sheriff Mirkarimi says he is pushing through with the initiative:
“Gouging poor people with exorbitant call costs is counterproductive and morally indefensible.”
At the committee meeting, Public Defender Adachi supported the new contract terms:
“We want people to succeed. Get out of their circumstances and turn a new leaf.”
Adachi said phone calls are important to maintain contact with families, who will help keep them out of jail down the line. Breed said she was a “big fan of this proposal.”
— Sasha Lekach, Bay City News