Davidson County sheriff to cut inmate phone call charges
Dave Boucher, firstname.lastname@example.org:31 a.m. CDT July 11, 2016
In a move aimed at reducing the financial burden of jail on inmates and their families, the Davidson County Sheriff's Office plans to cut charges for all inmate phone calls from 13 cents to 5 cents per minute.
Sheriff Daron Hall is set to announce the change Monday, a decision that comes amid an ongoing national dialogue about the costs of inmate phone calls and who ultimately gets the money.
"The need for an inmate to communicate with family members while incarcerated is critical. Research proves a strong support system improves the likelihood of success upon release. It is important to me we do all we can to ensure those relationships continue and relieve some of the stress and burden placed on family members," Hall said in an email sent Friday and obtained by The Tennessean.
Hall said the change puts Davidson County's rates for local and intrastate calls at one of the lowest in the nation.
Before the change, it cost roughly 13 cents per minute for a call, said spokeswoman Karla West. There will still be some fees for the calls, but they have been reduced substantially. For a 10-minute local call, to somewhere such as Dickson or another local area, the fee drops from $1.65 to 50 cents. For a 10-minute regional call, to places such as Memphis or Knoxville, the fee drops from $8.41 to 50 cents, West said.
Traditionally, private companies operate the phone systems at local jails and prisons. Through that system, inmates — or, in most cases, their families — end up paying rates that include commissions that go to both the private company and the incarcerating institution.
In his email, Hall notes the new phone contract does away with all previous commissions.
Alex Friedmann, a former inmate who's managing editor for a prison newsletter and an advocate for inmates, and Jeannie Alexander, a former prison chaplain who runs a inmate advocacy organization, both applauded Hall's decision to cut the phone rates.
"Sheriff Daron Hall is to be commended for lowering the phone rates for people held in Nashville jails — rates that are typically paid by prisoners' family members and not by the prisoners themselves, most of whom are awaiting trial and thus presumed to be innocent until proven guilty," Friedmann said in a statement.
"Doing away with the commission-based model will go a long way towards ensuring fair and affordable phone rates so those in jail can more easily communicate with their family members and children."
The Federal Communications Commission issued a ruling in October that capped the costs of phone calls, noting that some calls at facilities across the country ended up "ballooning to $14 per minute once inside prison walls." The new ruling limits charges for jails the size of Nashville's to 14 cents per minute.
The cap for calls from prisons is 11 cents per minute. The Tennessee Department of Correction recently changed its rate to 7 cents per minute. However, Friedmann said the new rate actually makes longer calls more expensive than they used to be.
The announcement comes after Metro recently gave final approval for more money in order to complete the demolition and reconstruction of the downtown Criminal Justice Center, the city's largest jail project in years. The plan is to build a new administrative headquarters for the sheriff's office. A final location has not been decided.
Note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the ongoing discussion about the future location of the new administrative headquarters for the sheriff's office.