The offender phone system installed in Texas prisons has raised $14.2 million dollars in revenue for fiscal year 2011. From that, the State of Texas took a cut of $ 5.7 million in commissions stated a TDCJ spokesperson who spoke to the Backgate. Those commissions go directly into the crime victims fund, or the State's general fund after certain annual percentages are reached within the crime victims fund. Embarq, which is the company TDCJ chose to install and maintain the phone system within the agency, won a seven year contract with the state in 2009 to provide all facilities with offender phone service. According to Wikipedia, Embarq was the largest independent local exchange carrier in the United States, serving customers in 18 states and providing local, long distance, high-speed data and wireless services to residential and business customers. It had been formerly the local telephone division (LTD) of Sprint Nextel until 2006, when it was spun off as an independent company. Embarq produced more than $6 billion in revenues annually, and had approximately 18,000 employees. In 2009, it was purchased by CenturyTel, which rebranded as CenturyLink after the merger.
The company became involved in providing prison phone services several years ago and is currently contracted by several states to supply prisoner phone services. The company touts;
- The system will allow inmates up to 15 minutes per call to friends and family who are on approved list of visitors.
- The system gives a warning message one minute before being disconnecting the call.
- The call can be made from 7:00 AM - 10:00 PM
- Calls are limited to 120 a month
- The calls to crime victims or the victims' families will be not be allowed.
- International calls and calls to cell phone, calls to 800 numbers businesses, pay phones aren't allowed.
- The service is not available for inmates with disciplinary problems, gang affiliations or those on death row.
- The service provider takes voice prints of each eligible inmate as a security check for phone access
- Friends and relatives of inmates can register on a Web site: http://www.texasprisonphone.com . The people registering will be notified by phone once they are approved for receiving calls.
- The People on an inmate's visitors list are required to submit a copy of their telephone bill and a copy of their driver's license for verification and validation.
- Calls to an inmate's lawyer of record, protected under attorney-client privilege, would not be monitored or recorded.
Is the system full proof ? Well no it's not. TDCJ touted the system in the beginning as it tried to sell the legislature on the deal that the phones would cut down on the number of illegal cell phones entering Texas prison facilities and cut down on employee corruption. The phone system was completed in December of 2010.
From January 2011 through December 2011, TDCJ reported a total of 274 cell phones as being intercepted (confiscated prior to getting into the prison) and a of 630 confiscated after they made it inside the walls. In just the first two months of 2012, (Jan-Feb)15 cell phones were confiscated prior to getting inside, and 94 were confiscated after making it in the secure facility. In all fairness, TDCJ has done a great job stopping and hampering the incoming flow, but has the the offender phone system slowed down the number of cell phones getting into our prisons ? The numbers don't lie. Offenders are recorded and monitored while using the Embarq system. They cannot make drug deals, arrange gang hits, or conduct illegal activity on the Embarg phones without some level of detection. Cell phones can be purchased from a rogue employee for as little as $200. That offender can in turn "rent" that phone out to other offenders and triple what he paid for the phone in just weeks. That accompanied by the lack of prosecution for these employees, makes it a lucrative venture behind the walls. Until the supply factor is removed from that of the demand, it's only going to get worse.
So whats the silver bullet that will eliminate these issues you ask ? Well that's a hotly contested debate that's sure to rage on for years to come as the quality of employee the prison system hires continues to dwindle.