Frustrated by California’s inability to prevent thousands of illicit cellphone calls made by inmates, state corrections chief Matt Cate is seeking help from an industry that has a big financial interest in his cause, the Los Angeles Times reports. Cate will offer a deal to companies that bid for the next contract to provide phone service for inmates: Install costly equipment that will block cellphone calls and see profits surge as prisoners use authorized services to connect with the outside world. “If cellphones are inoperable, the company will make more money,” Cate said.
Prisoners are supposed to use pay phones in their housing units to call people outside. They are charged collect call rates, and the conversations are recorded and monitored by prison staff. The proliferation of smuggled cellphones has reduced use of the authorized phones and the ability to monitor them; officials cannot afford the technology to block cellular signals. The contract for inmate phone service is up for renewal. Cate wants the winning bidder to pay the estimated $16.5 million to $33 million that it would cost to install “managed access” systems in all 33 state prisons. Prisoners’ rights advocates say the plan would lead to financial exploitation of inmates and their families. A typical 15-minute call from an inmate costs about $2. “When the prison system gives the phone company a monopoly, they jack up the price,” said Margaret Winter of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national prison project.