Effect in York not yet clear as FCC limits fees for prison phone calls [The York Dispatch, Pa.]
(York Dispatch, The (PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 15--People who accept phone calls from inmates at York County Prison could see a decrease in the cost because of a recent Federal Communications Commission decision to limit how much phone companies can charge.
The FCC voted to cap interstate phone rates at 21 cents a minute for debit or prepaid calls and 25 cents a minute for collect calls. The action was spurred by family members who pay for the calls.
York County uses Global Tel-Link, the nation's largest provider of inmate phone services, said Warden Mary Sabol.
Prisoners in York are charged $1.75 for first three minutes and 5 cents per minute after that for local calls, she said.
Interstate calls cost $3.95 for the first three minutes and 89 cents per minute for additional minutes.
Local long-distance rates, in-state calls and those within the 717 area code, cost between $1.75 for the first three minutes and 20 cents per additional minute to $3 for the first three minutes and 45 cents per additional minute.
Sabol said she has fielded "occasional complaints" about the price, but she hasn't allowed the company to increase prices since she took the helm in 2008.
It's unclear how or when the FCC ruling will decrease prices for York County inmate calls. Sabol said the county's Global Tel-Link representative told her it would be about a month before the changes would be clear, and companies are likely to appeal the decision. The company representative did not return calls for comment.
No tax money: Inmate calls aren't funded by taxpayers. Global Tel-Link paid for all of the equipment, including a system to monitor the calls, and installed them, Sabol said.
York County gets 69 percent commission for all calls made, to the tune of $775,277 in last year's budget, the warden said.
That money supplements the prison budget and pays for upgrades to the prison, said vice-president county commissioner Doug Hoke, who's president of the county's prison board.
He said the FCC decision could decrease the amount of money spent for upgrades at the prison, but "I'm not sure of the total financial impact."
Any revenue lost from phone calls would, if there's a need for upgrades or improvements to the prison, be taken from the prison budget. If there's no money there, the lost revenue would be covered from county's general fund, Hoke said.
Hoke said he has never, "in the five years and five months I've been president of the prison board" received a complaint from a prisoner or family member about the cost of calls.
Nationwide differences: Nationwide, the commission's action ends fluctuating phone rates for inmates that vary depending on the provider, the type of call and size of prison facility.
The fees range from 50 cents to $3.95 to place calls, plus additional per-minute rates of anywhere from 5 cents to 89 cents. In some cases, a 15-minute call has cost $17, and numerous fees have been tacked onto call charges.
Under the decision, companies wanting to set higher rates would have to file a request for a waiver and could not charge more until that waiver is granted.
The petition asking the FCC to regulate inmate phone call rates was filed in 2003 after a judge dismissed a lawsuit that Martha Wright-Reed brought against a private prison company. She had struggled to keep up with phone bills while her grandson was incarcerated. The judge directed her to the commission.
--The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Christina Kauffman at email@example.com.
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