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Economics Of The Prison Payphone Call

Prisoners-Phone-CallsThe first round of comments are in for the FCC Proposed Rule Making 12-375 (The Wright Petition), and advocates from both sides of the issue have submitted letters and comments on the price of interstate calls from prison.

Some cash-strapped states and facilities collect commissions from prison phone contracts. Texas, for instance, uses some of the money collected for a crime victims’ fund.

Nationwide, states collect more than $150 million a year from prison phone commissions, according to a Prison Legal News survey. These commissions effectively raise call rates, but they also provide funding that states or prisons crave.

“Correctional agencies need those revenues either to lessen the financial burden that prison operations put on state and county budgets, or to implement programs that benefit inmates,” Stephanie A. Joyce, an attorney representing Dallas-based Securus Technologies, advised the FCC in October.

Of particular interest amongst the many briefs, letters and comments was a study of Securus Technologies’ prison payphone costs, commissions and prices across small, medium and large jails as well as state department of corrections (DOC) facilities. The following are some of the highlights from that report:

The costs incurred by Securus for the provision of ICS services to a typical institution in each facility group are summarized in Table 2. The ICS cost figures reflect the average costs incurred by Securus to provide ICS service. The costs include site commissions, bad debt, billing and collection, telecom facilities and services, validation, field technicians, and customer services:


The costs faced by Securus in providing ICS services can also be assessed on a per-call basis. As shown in Table 3, Securus incurred total ICS costs of $2.53 per call in serving the average High 10 facility. For Medium 10 facilities, the company incurred costs of $5.48 per call. For Low 10 institutions, on average, Securus faced ICS costs per call of $11.54 per call. Finally, for DOC facilities, the company’s average ICS cost per call came to $1.51:


In Table 5, the average site commissions reported in Table 4 are divided by the total average costs required to provide ICS services for the facilities in each facility group. The ICS cost figures were previously reported in Table 2:


In Table 6, the average site commissions from Table 4 are divided by the average ICS revenue generated by inmate facilities in each of the four facility groups. The resulting percentages demonstrate the magnitude of site commissions as a function of the average calling revenue earned by Securus in each facility group:


The total number of interstate calls from all Securus facilities nationwide in 2012 was 9,122,432 calls. For the same year, the company processed 106,082,679 interstate minutes. Based on these two figures, the average length of an interstate call from a Securus facility in 2012 was 11.63 minutes.

Table 10 reports the calculated price per call that would apply for an interstate call of average duration that was generated by an average facility in one of the four facility groups. Note that the average call lengths assumed in Table 10 closely track the calculated average call lengths for the four facility groups:


Although it is never explicitly summarized in the report, here is the bottom line: (Using Table 10 to calculate the price per minute and subtracting costs per minute from Table 2)

  • High 10 = $1.09 price per minute vs. $0.17 cost per minute = $0.92 profit/minute
  • Medium 10 = $1.08 price per minute vs. $0.50 cost per minute = $0.58 profit/minute
  • Low 10 = $1.09 price per minute vs. $1.71 cost per minute = ($0.62) profit/minute
  • State DOC = $0.46 price per minute vs. $0.10 cost per minute = $0.36 profit/minute

Note: This profit analysis does not take into account intrastate and local calls, which are the majority of prison phone calls.


Methodology for the Securus data: Divide the non-DOC facilities into three groups. Each group contains ten facilities for which Securus provided ICS services in 2012. The three groups included the ten highest volume non-DOC customers (“High 10”), the ten medium volume non-DOC customers (“Medium 10”) and the 10 lowest non-DOC volume customers (“Low 10”) (collectively, the “10-10-10”methodology). For each customer, the volume used to determine membership in each group was based on total minutes.

In addition to these three groups, a fourth group was created consisting of all DOC facilities that Securus served in 2012, of which there are eight (8).

After review of the data provided for the 10-10-10 groups, it was decided to adjust the data as follows: First, a minimum contract revenue of $1,000 was adopted for the Low 10 group. This adjustment removed facilities with extremely low revenue totals that likely reflected measurement periods of less than one year. Second, outlier facilities in the original High 10 group were replaced by alternative facilities. The three outlier facilities reported volume and/or ICS revenue data that for known reasons are not representative of the High 10 Group.


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Chief Inspector of Prisons Says Prisoners Should Be Given In-Cell Phones

prison-phone-in-cellAdd yet another voice to the growing chorus of high level prison administrators who advocate for increased prisoner access to telecommunications to address a host of problems in prison. Among the reasons Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons in the UK, who heads up the prison system there, gave for this recommendation:

  • The illegal use of mobile phones was widespread in most prisons and installing phones in cells would enable more calls to be monitored.
  • Making inmates wait to use a phone on the landing and then asking prison officers to control the scrum as prisoners battled for five minutes to talk was a waste of scarce resources.
  • In-cell phones would be monitored, with the calls paid for by prisoners and inmates restricted to calling certain pre-approved numbers only.
  • I think there are some prisoners where, provided it was properly managed and supervised, it would be efficient and help people to sort themselves out.
  • Our experience is that in-cell phones can have a positive impact on prisoners’ rehabilitation, not only encouraging the maintenance of family ties, but reducing the prevalence of illegal mobile phones.

We only have two questions. Where are the American prison leadership thought leaders on this approach? And why install wall phones, when you can deploy wireless prison payphones™ such as the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solutions™ immediately and with no capital cost?




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Phones In Cells For Inmates Recommended By Prison Chief

phones-in-prison-cellsHere is an interesting article endorsing the deployment and use of phones in prison cells to increase prisoner family contact and reduce recidivism. The issue of public perception of such a strategy is acknowledged, but enhancing access to telecommunication services will reduce the value of contraband cell phones and improve officer safety in prisons and jails. The strategy can easily be accomplished with no upfront cost through the deployment of the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution.

Telephones and not just televisions should be allowed in prisoners’ cells, the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service has suggested.

Colin McConnell said helping people keep in touch with their families could help prevent reoffending.

He raised the idea with MSPs on Holyrood’s Justice Committee.

“I know that might stick in the craw of certain members of the public and maybe some members sitting round the table here,” Mr McConnell admitted.

“It seems to me you get people to behave normally if you treat them normally; you try and recreate normality.

“One of the things that’s generally accepted helps towards reducing reoffending is relationships and family contact.

Television curfew

“Anything reasonably and safely we can do to help sustain and develop family contact, we should give it a go.”

Mr McConnell admitted, in mentioning phones in cells, he was being “a wee bit reformist”.

The SPS chief executive said he is a “fan of TVs in cells” for prisoners, with “loads of positives that come from that”.

Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, a former director general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, asked Mr McConnell if a 01:00 television curfew in operation at Low Moss Prison in Bishopbriggs should be extended to all prisoners.

The SPS chief executive replied that television could be a “window on the world”.

“It’s about keeping informed about what’s going on and actually it’s a displacement activity as well,” he said.

Encouraged to sleep

“If it stops somebody thinking horrible thoughts about themselves or others and encourages discourse about Coronation Street, the news or whatever it might be, I think there’s loads of positives that come from that.

“I know it’s one of those issues that polarises people, but I think there’s a place for it. Whether it should have a curfew, I think there are pros and cons.

“I’d much rather treat people with the respect and decency in the sense of ‘please use it sensibly’ and those that don’t, we might have to curtail it.”

Mr Pearson, the South of Scotland MSP, had suggested that, having visited the Bishopbriggs facility, the curfew appeared to have a “very positive effect on the prison” because it encourages prisoners to go to sleep, “which means, in the morning, they are more engaged and ready to go out and do something”.

Committee convener Christine Grahame said both televisions and phones in cells should come “with the caveat that presumably it’s monitored what they are watching and obviously phone calls, so people don’t think they are in some kind of Marriot Hotel instead of in prison”.


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Dial-up Dinners Plan For New Jail

A new prison in Australia is proposing the installation of advanced technology in each of the cells. This will include in-cell telephones. The private prison company Serco states, “The introduction of in-cell telephones in its overseas prisons had resulted in significant improvements in prison security, including a drop in the number of prisoners trying to smuggle cellphones.”

The meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution allows existing prisons and jails to realize the same reduction in contraband cell phones without the expense of installing hard-wired phones in each cell.

Prisoners would get telephones, televisions and “electronic menu” systems in the cells of a private prison in south Auckland under plans being considered by the Department of Corrections.

British-based company Serco, which will manage the new 960-bed prison at Wiri, has introduced the technology in its prisons overseas and wants to do the same here.

The proposal includes introducing “custodial management system” screens to prison units – and in some cases to individual cells – so inmates could order meals, write shopping lists, add credit to phone accounts and see weekly timetables.

Serco said the introduction of in-cell telephones in its overseas prisons had resulted in significant improvements in prison security, including a drop in the number of prisoners trying to smuggle cellphones.

TV sets were allowed in cells, depending on prisoners’ behaviour.

Serco would not say whether it planned to use the new technology in the Wiri prison, but a Department of Corrections spokesman confirmed it was in the company’s proposal.

The SecureFuture consortium, comprised of Macquarie (financial arranger), Fletcher Construction (design and construction), Spotless (facility management provider), and Serco (operator and custodial services provider) is the preferred bidder for the $300 million 25-year contract to build and run the facility.

Canterbury University Professor of Sociology and former Paremoremo Prison inmate Greg Newbold said introducing the technology was clearly a cost-cutting exercise.

“Those private prisons have to run at a profit and 80 per cent of the cost of running prisons is in manpower.

“If you can do the administrative things electronically, you reduce the need for staff on the floor and you can run a prison more efficiently and more cheaply.

Corrections Association president Beven Hanlon said the in-cell technology could save prison officers hours of mundane paperwork.

“At the moment if the prisoner wants something they have to come up to an officer and request it, so introducing these screens would mean if they’re short on toilet paper or they need a new toothbrush etc they can just enter it in.”

“But they should use it in the right way – let’s not get crazy on it and turn these places into the Hilton.”

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said he was “dumbfounded” by the proposal.

” I’ve seen no evidence that making prison a more comfortable place to be is any more likely to reduce offending than making prison a place that is unpleasant and where offenders should not want to go back to,” he said.


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Danger In The Use Of Prison Wall Phones

As this article demonstrates, the use of current prison telephone systems requires prisoner movement. And prisoner movement always entails the potential risk of violence, both to guards and other prisoners.

Prisoners must leave their cells to access the correctional facility wall phones. The prisoners must be accompanied to the phones by guards or, if the phones are in a prisoner common area, prisoners may congregate around the phones, increasing the risk of bullying, violence and harassment of weaker prisoners attempting to use the prison phones.

The meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution eliminates this problem and increases correctional officer safety by allowing prisoners to make calls from their cells. Prisoner movement is eliminated, more calls can be made, thereby raising revenue, and conversations can be conducted safely and privately.

Officials say an inmate at the Union County Jail angry about the use of the telephone system assaulted a jail officer last week.

Jimmy Decarlos Henderson, 31, of Union has been charged by the Union County Sheriff’s Office with aggravated assault and battery, according to an incident report.

The report states that on Feb. 13, guards went to check on Henderson, who was upset that the facility’s phone system had not been turned on. The guards instructed Henderson twice to go back into his cell area and wait until the system was turned on, but Henderson refused, the report states.

Henderson positioned himself in a corner and “took a fighting stance,” the report states. A guard stepped toward Henderson, and Henderson swung and hit him in the body, head and face area several times as the guard tried to subdue him, according to the report.

The guard got Henderson on the floor and put his elbow on Henderson’s throat to get him to stop fighting, the report states. Henderson then went to his cell.


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Inmate Cell Phone Service…Not Secrecy, Privacy

There was a brief posting on the social media site MetaFilter recently regarding the impact of the high cost of prison telecommunications services entitled “Don’t Phone Home From America’s Prisons.

Among the effects of the high cost of prison phone calls is the marked increase in contraband cell phone smuggling across the country.

The comments that followed the post primarily discussed individual experiences with prison phone systems. One comment in particular caught our eye:

“Jail landlines are crowded and not always available, or not always available safely to an inmate.

And then there’s the desire for privacy. Not secrecy, privacy. Would you want to talk about your personal medical stuff, or talk about your mom’s operation, or tell your sweetie how much you miss them….or talk about being queer or trans, or talk about racist violence around you or talk about prison rape…right out there when maybe the person who was threatening you could hear? Or the guards could hear so they could pick on you some more? Maybe withhold your meds?”

This is one of the ways in which our secure prison cell phone solution benefits the incarcerated. While there are many meshDETECT features that benefit the prison administration, such as cell phone call recording and monitoring, the ability to conduct a personal conversation in a private manner is an inmate benefit.

Why should we care if there are benefits of the service for the inmate? Because it has been shown that recidivism is reduced through frequent family contact. The ability to conduct a personal conversation with a modicum of privacy facilitates a higher quality interaction with family and friends.

This benefits society as a whole.

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Addressing The High Cost Of Prison Phone Calls

An interesting article tackling the contentious issue of prison telephone systems vendors paying per minute commissions to jails and prisons. In Louisiana, as in other states, the rate can be as high as 55% of the per minute cost of the call. According to the article, phone commissions are an important source of revenue, state corrections officials say. The challenge is to balance the need to find sources of prison revenue to fund operations in a difficult economy that has slashed state and local budgets while at the same time encouraging prisoner communication with family to reduce recidivism. As the article states, “it can be harmful to re-entry and rehabilitation goals if an inmate’s family can’t afford to stay in touch with him while he’s incarcerated.”

One strategy is to reduce the commissions, and therefore the cost of the telephone service, and offset this lost revenue by offering the new meshDETECT secure prison cell phone service. Many prisoners and their families would be willing to pay a premium to have the convenience and privacy a cell phone would provide their conversations. This will increase total revenues, reduce the contraband value of smuggled cell phones and offer more opportunities for prisoners to stay in touch with family and friends.

Every time a Louisiana prison inmate picks up a telephone and places a call, it’s money in the bank for sheriff’s offices and correctional facilities across the state.

The Louisiana Department of Corrections has received $10.2 million in commissions from vendors operating prison phones during the past three fiscal years, records show, and sheriff’s offices in Louisiana’s 64 parishes have received millions more.

For the most part, the money comes from the families of inmates — many of them poor — who pay the tab in the form of collect call charges that critics say are exorbitant, unfair and ultimately counterproductive to rehabilitation and re-entry objectives.

Now, the system is under scrutiny by the Louisiana Public Service Commission, which regulates the rates that telephone companies are allowed to charge.

The commissions that vendors are required to pay sheriff’s offices and the state — as much as 55 percent of gross revenues — are a big factor in the steep phone charges, records show.

A local collect call of zero to five minutes from East Baton Rouge Parish Prison means a charge of $1.31 under existing allowable rates, with a 50-cent charge for each five-minute period after that, meaning a 15- minute phone call costs $2.31, records show.

Pam Laborde, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said the cost of 15-minute local collect calls from state prisons average $1.05, while intrastate collect calls average $5.55.

The charges can be a crushing blow for poor families trying desperately to stay in contact with loved ones behind bars, said Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell.

“A lot of people think this is grossly unfair,” Campbell said. “This affects a lot of families in Louisiana.”

He recently prodded the PSC to hire outside legal counsel to analyze rates, examine regulations and compare them with other jurisdictions to determine if they are “just, fair and reasonable.”

Campbell said he tried to deal with the issue when he was a state senator but politically powerful Louisiana sheriffs blocked attempts to cut phone rates.

Cleo Fields, a lawyer who served in the state Senate with Campbell, said it was tough legislation to try to pass.

“Obviously, the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association opposed the bill vigorously,” Fields said. “They felt it would be an infringement on their revenues. My argument is they shouldn’t use those types of revenues to balance their budget.”

Fields said the person being penalized is not the one who is incarcerated but rather the mother, child or other family member who is being charged the high rates.

Laborde said collect phone charges for the 19,000 inmates housed in state-run prisons in Louisiana are much lower than is the case for prison inmates in the neighboring states of Texas and Mississippi.

She said the local rate for a 15-minute inmate collect call in Mississippi is $2.85, while a 15-minute long-distance call is $14.55. In Texas, the rates are $3.90 for a local collect call and $6.45 for a long-distance collect call, she said.

Under its contract to provide inmate telephone services in state-run prisons, Global Tel Link pays 55 percent of its gross revenues to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

The commissions generated $3.3 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to figures provided by the department.

Although a small part of a public safety department budget that is $480.6 million this year, phone commissions are an important source of revenue, state corrections officials say.

Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said the agency has done everything it can to cut expenses short of closing or privatizing prisons.

“It would be a major impact to us if we had to cut $3.3 million from our budget,” he said.

LeBlanc said staff levels have been sharply reduced during the past three years and cutting corrections officer positions is not an option.

He said that means the ax likely would have to fall on services such as rehabilitation and re-entry programs designed to help inmates transition successfully back into the community. He said that’s not a direction he wants to see the department take.

“Our staff, from the bottom up, are committed to re-entry,” LeBlanc said.

He also noted that family ties are not always healthy and conducive to an inmate’s successful re-entry into the community.

“Family culture sometimes is not the best thing because they may have come up in a culture of crime,” LeBlanc said.

He also said money generated from phone commissions helps cover the costs of investigators who review recorded calls for security purposes, often generating useful information for the FBI, State Police or other law enforcement agencies.

Like the state corrections department, sheriff’s offices in Louisiana have also come to rely on income from phone commissions to help run their operations.

For example, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office includes $620,000 from phone commissions payments in its $79 million budget for this fiscal year.

Casey Rayborn-Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, said in an email that the money goes into the sheriff’s general fund to help meet operating expenses, including such things as a crime victim’s assistance program.

The Sheriff’s Office’s agreement with American Phone Systems of Lafayette requires the company to pay 48 percent of its gross revenue to the Sheriff’s Office.

The contract is similar to that for other parish sheriff’s offices The Advocate examined. The same contract also sets the commission rate at 48 percent.

Michael Ranatza, executive director of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, said the LSA doesn’t compile information on how much money sheriff’s offices statewide receive from phone commissions.

“I don’t know from parish-to- parish what it generates,” Ranatza said.

He said he wouldn’t speculate on what position the LSA might take on any attempt to eliminate commissions as a way of reducing phone charges that relatives of inmates have to pay.

“That’s something that’s not on the table right now,” Ranatza said. “We would look at the merits of any proposal based on what is presented and make a determination at that time.”

Curt Selman, chief executive officer of Payphones of Arkansas LLC and past president of a trade association for specialized communications providers, said phone systems installed in prisons have to be able to screen, record and block calls and must have other security features that make such systems more expensive than others.

He acknowledged that the commissions paid to state or local correctional facilities — sometimes amounting to more than half of gross revenues — drive up the costs for inmates and their families. But, he said, it’s a tradeoff because the money goes back into operating the prisons, reducing costs for taxpayers.

“There is some pressure from individual counties, states and parishes to get the commissions as high as possible and who can blame them? They are trying to run a jail and revenues are down,” Selman said.

He said companies bidding to provide phone services try to set rates at levels people can afford but also have to accommodate the requirements of prison systems that are trying to maximize the revenues they receive.

“Most of the providers of the service are not making outlandish profits,” Selman said. “Their margins are actually pretty slim.”

The PSC’s Campbell said his objection is to the tacked-on commissions that drive up phone rates and have nothing to do with the cost of providing the service.

Moreover, Campbell said, it can be harmful to re-entry and rehabilitation goals if an inmate’s family can’t afford to stay in touch with him while he’s incarcerated.

“You should do the human thing and let the man talk to his wife and children,” Campbell said. “It shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.”

He said it is wrong to fund sheriff’s offices and prisons by “taking it out of the hides of the poorest of the poor.”

Fields said the current practices are predatory.

“We’ve got to take the profit out of prisons, period,” Fields said. “At this point, it’s profitable to incarcerate people. It should not be a way to make money.”

The phone commission system used in Louisiana is similar to that used in many other states.

A publication called Prison Legal News earlier this year found that phone service vendors, on average, paid state corrections departments 42 percent of their gross revenues from phone calls made by prisoners.

The report found that “pure, unabated greed by both the phone companies” and state prison systems controls the rates set for inmate phone services.

The report said that eight states have banned prison phone commissions — Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Michigan, South Carolina, California and Missouri.

Author: Greg Garland

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Video: Prison Shakedown Finds Contraband Cell Phones

Each of the Wilcox State Prison’s 1,862 inmates were strip searched, then removed from their cells and placed in a holding room. Officers then entered two at a time, sometimes accompanied by a member of the K-9 unit.

By the end of the shakedown, officers had confiscated 32 cell phones, 21 weapons and small amounts of marijuana and meth. Most of the items were well hidden: behind walls, in ceilings or inside of a broken sink.

They said their biggest focus is finding and removing cell phones. Prison warden Robert Toole said they are just as dangerous as weapons.

“Once that one cell phone makes it in, it just opens up the flood gates,” he said. “It allows inmates to communicate, to carry on criminal activity outside the walls. It allows inmates to intimidate possible witnesses.”

Contraband cell phones can be replaced by the meshDETECT secure cell phone solution to reduce the demand for smuggled cell phones and control their use for criminal activity


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State-wide Network Smuggles Prison Cell Phones

A state-wide network of Georgia ex-cons smuggled contraband cell phones into prisons on demand and at $300 per cell phone. Drugs were also smuggled into the Georgia DOC facilities.

State, area and local investigators have uncovered a trail of cell phones, marijuana and tobacco that led straight to state prisons.

Several people were arrested here and in Colquitt County in connection with the operation. At least one other arrest is expected in Thomas County.

The statewide investigation showed a prisoner would request the contraband and tell the suspects where to leave the items.

The activity involved a vast network of co-conspirators outside the prisons.

The contraband would be left away from the prisons, said Kevin Lee, commander of the Thomas County/Thomasville Narcotics/Vice Division.

“The location could be on a work detail,” Lee explained. “It could be anywhere.”

The Georgia Department of Corrections Investigation Unit participated in the probe. The state agency did not respond Thursday to a request for information.

In Thomas County, Henry Curtis Ansley III, also known as Bubba, 38, 708 Hunters Chase, is charged with criminal conspiracy and unlawful possession of Hydrocodone.

Ansley is a former state prison inmate, who served time with another person charged in the investigation.

Lee said investigators found various addresses in Ansley’s text messages that told where he was to leave prison contraband.

“An ounce of marijuana will go for $400 to $500 in prison,” the commander said. A cell phone costs an inmate about $300.

When he was arrested, Ansley had hydrocodone pills in a pocket, and officers found more of the narcotic pain killer at his residence.

A corrections officer at Colquitt County Correctional Institute is charged in the case.

Richard Dale Roberts, 43, 10 Wiregrass Circle, Moultrie, is charged with violation of oath of office, felony possession of marijuana, illegal use of a communications device and conspiracy to commit a crime.

Steve Exum, commander of the Colquitt County Drug Enforcement Team, said charges on Roberts stemmed from information received from the correctional institute warden about contraband being brought into the facility.

Exum said Roberts was attempting to deliver marijuana to the correctional institute.

“It was marijuana he has just purchased from an FBI task force officer,” Exum explained.

Also charged in the case are Billy Joe Bowling, 35, 161 Dogwood Lane, Thomasville; Marcos Lewis Brewer, 22, 775 Flintside Drive, Cobb; and Jason Curry Icard, 39, 310 Highway 240 South, Buena Vista.

Bowling and Brewer are on parole, said Cpl. Kim Young of the Colquitt County drug agency.

Ansley and Brewer were in the same prison at the same time, Young explained.

Bowling, Brewer and Icard, who are charged with felony marijuana possession, were traveling in a red Honda Civic that did not stop at a stop sign in Colquitt County. A deputy made a traffic stop.

The marijuana was thrown from the car’s sunroof, Young said, adding that the contraband being tossed from the vehicle was recorded on video by a camera in the deputy’s car.

Seized in the Colquitt County arrests were a large quantity of cell phones and chargers and 90 bags of loose-leaf tobacco.

“They admitted to the intent of dropping the contraband at several state prisons, and they had several times prior,” Young said.


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Prison Virtual Visits Bring In Real Cash

An interesting article about the use of video visitation in prison. We recently discussed the search for new sources of revenue by prison administrators and the positive impact of visitation on prisoner recidivism. This article highlights the use of technology to accomplish both goals.

Taking these trends one step further, we can envision the time when prisoners are allowed to use the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone service to not only make and receive calls from loved ones, but also to engage in a video visitation over the wireless phone. Like the phone calls, all the needed security and control will be present in the hand-held wireless device when used for video visitation.

As stated in the article, “The company’s revenue-sharing model provides some incentives to corrections agencies. But the real savings are in staffing. Everyone has had to rein in costs. It’s cheaper to put in an Internet system to cut down on inmate movement than to have people come on-site.” Allowing prisoners to make calls, whether voice or video, from their cells will raise revenue, increase safety and reduce cost.

Lydia Curtis walked into the visiting room with a handful of other women Wednesday at the Cape May County Jail, where a sheriff’s officer ran a metal-detecting wand over them.

Curtis, 37, of Lower Township, was there to visit her husband, Ben Curtis, who is awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania on a warrant for failing to complete community service in Bucks County, she said.

“We just talk about normal, daily stuff. He wants to know about the kids. They play sports,” she said of the couple’s four children.

These in-person visits have become less common since Cape May County introduced Internet visitation last April.

The system works like Skype. Inmates or their families pay a fee to chat over the Internet through a video screen. Families can access the system over the web.

County officials are convinced this kind of service could raise millions of dollars in new revenue for the state Department of Corrections.

More jails in New Jersey are considering adopting this kind of service. And one provider, iWebVisit.com of Reno, Nev., recently met with New Jersey officials about using the system at the state’s prisons.

Cape May County freeholders in January 2011 paid iWebVisit.com $67,145 to install 27 video-chat terminals at the jail off Crest Haven Boulevard in Middle Township. Inmate processing fees paid for $17,000 of those costs.

The county receives 46 percent of revenue from the video chats between inmates and their friends, family or even lawyers. The company charges $10 for a 20-minute video chat; $15 for a chat with a lawyer.

While the system has not replaced in-person visits, it has become a popular alternative for inmates and their families, Sheriff Gary Schaffer said.

“Over the summer, about two-thirds of our visits were over the Internet,” he said. “The results are better than I expected and they’ll only get better. We’ve had a couple law firms sign up already. Attorneys are starting to use it more.”

Cape May County collected about $8,000 in revenue since the system went live in May. These earnings are expected to increase to $20,000 in 2012, Administrator Stephen O’Connor said.

The company recently met with the state Department of Corrections about adopting the system at New Jersey’s nine state prisons.

“A presentation has been made, but they haven’t decided which way they can go,” Corrections spokesman Matt Schuman said. Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan would make the final decision, Schuman said.

New Jersey houses about 24,200 inmates, according to the department. That’s about 100 times the average occupancy of the Cape May County jail.

Under the terms of the county’s deal, the state might expect to raise at least $2 million in new revenue per year — more, if the participation rate were higher.

“If the state does go with this kind of thing, they can make millions of dollars per year,” Schaffer said. “Take the number of inmates in the system. Some of our inmates have three visits per day, while before they were lucky to get one visit per week.”

Salem County signed a similar agreement in November. Because Cape May County was the first in New Jersey to try the system, the company offered Cape May County a more favorable revenue-sharing deal.

“They came in by offering us 15 percent,” Salem County Jail Warden Raymond C. Skradzinski said. “We coaxed them up to 25 percent.”

Salem County, which, unlike Cape May County, houses federal inmates awaiting trial from Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, expects to see $10,000 to $20,000 in its first full year, Skradzinski said.

The Nevada company was one of four that bid on the Cape May County proposal. The company provides Internet visitation at jails in six states, spokesman Robert Avery said.

“We’re talking to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security right now. They run all the ICE jails,” he said of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“ICE inmates are typically housed extremely far from their families,” he said. “I’ve been told the ICE inmates are practically wearing out our system. It’s very popular with them.”

Avery said the company’s revenue-sharing model provides some incentives to corrections agencies. But the real savings are in staffing, he said.

“Everyone has had to rein in costs. It’s cheaper to put in an Internet system to cut down on inmate movement than to have people come on-site,” he said.

Schaffer agreed he expects to be able to cut down on overtime for scheduled visitation as more inmates start using the Internet version.

Lower Township’s Curtis says she has tried the Internet visitation from her home, but prefers to save money by coming to the jail when she can.

“It’s a little impersonal,” she said. “State prisons allow contact visits. Prisoners are not going to want to give that up.”

Reached for comment, the New Jersey branch of the American Civil Liberties Union declined to comment when told the Internet visits were optional.

Salem County’s Skradzinski said prison inmates likely would use the Internet visitation system much more than typical jail inmates. Prisoners serve longer sentences than most jail inmates, which are typically limited to 1 year. And state prisons often impose greater geographic distances between inmates and their families.

Skradzinski recommends the state consider this kind of visitation system.

“It would be the smart thing to do. I definitely see it being the wave of the future,” he said.


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