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Article on lower phone rates, tablets at Ohio jail mentions PLN, Oct. 26, 2015.

Cuyahoga County Jail inmates to pay less for calls and be offered monitored online services

By Karen Farkas, Northeast Ohio Media Group 
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on October 26, 2015 at 10:34 AM, updated October 27, 2015 at 11:45 AM

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Cuyahoga County Jail inmates will pay less for phone calls and be able to use monitored online services to visit with family and friends, watch movies and take courses, Sheriff Clifford Pinkney said.

The services would be offered under a new contract he is negotiating with a company that provides inmate phone services.

The company would pay the county $4 million for a five-year contract to provide the phone system and online services, Pinkney told County Council members at a budget hearing last week.

Inmate calls currently cost a flat $2.50 per local call and additional fees for out of the area and out-of-state calls. The county's contract with Global Tel Link Corp. expired in 2014. 

Under the new contract inmates would be charged 14 cents per minute for any call, Pinkney said. He said most calls are local and average nine minutes.

Inmate phone rates have come under fire for years.

On Oct. 22 the Federal Communications Commission took action to reduce rate caps for local and in-state long-distance inmate calling and barring add-on fees.

New caps will reduce the average rates from $2.96 to no more than $1.65 for a 15-minute in-state call for most calls. 

A 15-minute call under Cuyahoga County's proposed rate would be $2.10.

Pinkney told council members proposed online services would benefit inmates and their families.

Families could use smart phones to "virtually visit" with inmates, who would use computers in kiosks.

Inmates could electronically order commissary goods, file grievances, download educational services and request services, including medical and clergy, Pinkney said.

All inmate accounts will become automated, which will allow family members to deposit funds to a commissary account using a credit card. Currently only cash or money orders are accepted, he said.

"One of the new services I am most excited about is the inmate tablet," Pinkney said.

Inmates could purchase or lease a small tablet, which could include access to secure email and video visitation services, music, educational programs, games, movies, instant messaging and electronic books.

Council members said they were unaware of the proposed contract, the potential income and other factors, especially the use of tablets. They scheduled a special committee meeting on Tuesday to get more details.

Ohio is one of about a dozen states that allow prisoners to purchase the modified tablet computer.

Proponents say such new technology will help prisoners maintain family ties, gain access to educational resources and assist with re-entry following their release, Prison Legal News reported.

"However, the idea of introducing technology into prisons is not without its detractors, including guards' unions that point to potential security threats, victims' advocates who fear prisoners will have another way to intimidate their victims, and politicians who decry efforts to provide prisoners with technology that many non-incarcerated citizens lack," the article said.

The devices, which cost from about $50, typically include built-in software security features, have restricted or no access to wireless Internet and have transparent plastic cases to ensure they are not used to hide contraband.

There would be a fee for all online services, Pinkney said.

"We are not seeking to reduce our budget or increase revenue on the backs of our inmates," he said. "It is my philosophy as sheriff that we treat all individuals, from those in the public, to those in our corrections center, with the proper amount of respect and dignity.

"Increasing services will make it easier for loved ones, friends, and family to have greater access to the inmate and enable the inmate to stay better connected to their community."