Inmate phone calls in Texas prisons are about to get a lot cheaper, the Texas Tribune reports. The Texas Board of Criminal Justice approved a decrease to the cost of calls for inmates from 26 cents per minute to 6 cents a minute, as of Sept. 1. The new contract will “benefit not only families of offenders who are hoping to stay connected, but enhance the agency’s focus on re-entry,” said Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Bryan Collier. “The system is used to maintain relationships with friends and family that are a vital part of a successful re-entry and reintegration of offenders into the community.” Under the new contract with CenturyLink, the cost of a typical 15-minute phone call will drop from about $4 to 90 cents. Phone call limits will also increase from 20 minutes to 30 minutes, and CenturyLink will install technology to allow for video visitation from major metro areas to rural areas.
The revenue from the phone system is split — 60 percent goes to the contractor and 40 percent goes to the state, mostly to the Texas Crime Victims Fund. Last year, inmate phone calls made nearly $15 million for the fund. Families, often struggling with a loss of income by having a member in prison, have criticized the costs of calls. “This is great news for families who are stressed by incarceration both financially and emotionally,” said Jennifer Erschabek of the Texas Inmate Families Association. “Being able to connect with a phone call is so valuable to wives, parents, children and others.” The board approved the department’s request for the next state budget, including $168 million to address staffing shortages in prisons. Last year, the department increased starting salaries for correctional officers and offered hiring bonuses at severely understaffed lockups, but understaffing continues to be a problem, with 4,500 vacant correctional officer positions statewide.