Why Texas is giving inmates a break to call their families and friends

A 37-year-old Haltom City woman died Wednesday, a day after being found unresponsive in the Tarrant County Jail.
A 37-year-old Haltom City woman died Wednesday, a day after being found unresponsive in the Tarrant County Jail. Getty Images

Texas prisoners are about to get a break.

At a time where the cost of nearly everything seems to be skyrocketing, inmates across the state will soon find it cheaper to call family and friends.

Starting Sept. 1, inmates will pay 6 cents for each minute they talk on the phone, no matter where they are calling. That’s down from 26 cents a minute.

And they’ll get to talk a little longer too, up to 30 minutes, a 10-minute increase, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

It’s all because of a new phone contract the state recently signed with CenturyLink.

Lower costs mean inmates might call loved ones more, which will help them when they are released from prison, officials say.

“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,” Bryan Collier, executive director of TDCJ, said in a statement.

So the cost of a typical 15 minute call, which now costs about $3.90, will drop to 90 cents once the new rate goes into effect.

The only people inmates are allowed to call are those whose names are on a “call list” that TDCJ officials have already approved.

“This isn’t just about compassion for those in prison — family contact during incarceration has been found to have positive effects, including reduced recidivism after release from prison,” state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, posted on Facebook.

“If incarcerated people are able to maintain strong family ties, these relationships can be sources of emotional, financial, and practical support as they serve their sentences and when they are reentering society.”

Inmates have a few options about how to pay for their calls. They can call collect. Or they, their families and friends can prepay for calls through the commissary.

Each month, about 1.5 million calls are made by nearly 127,000 inmates who use this system in 104 state-run prisons across the state, TDCJ records show.

The contract calls for the contractor to receive 60 percent of the revenue from the phone program and the state to receive 40 percent.

From the state’s 40 percent, the first $10 million must be paid to the Texas Crime Victims Compensation Fund. After that amount, the revenue is split 50-50, with half going to the state’s general revenue fund and half to the crime victims compensation fund.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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