For decades, Texas officials predicted the worst if convicts in the nation’s second-largest prison system got broader access to telephones: riots, contract murders, drug smuggling, harassment of victims. Yet the state legislature approved prison phones without executive branch protest or an outcry from crime victims groups. The Austin American-Statesman credits changing technology, behind-the-scenes lobbying by potential vendors, and a perceived shift in public sentiment.
It will be one of the biggest operational and cultural shifts in years in a tradition-bound corrections system housing more than 154,000 convicts where change seldom comes easily. The state could make as much as $15 million over two years from the phone calls. It will come at a cost: designing security procedures to make sure prisoners can’t use the phones to commit crimes. “Monitoring calls is the key, and that’s going to be a huge job, like keeping track of all the calls in a city the size of Waco,” said John Moriarty, the prison system’s inspector general. A plethora of technical gizmos will be used – even blocking call forwarding and conference calls that could ring in forbidden contacts – to ensure that convicts do not call people they’re not supposed to. In a state with 106 prisons and a dozen of other parole and pre-release lockups, both the phone system and the security that goes with it will be a huge undertaking. More than 5,100 phones could eventually be installed: one for every 30 convicts.