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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: March 4, 2019 03:22 PM
From: Representative Jake Wheatley, Jr.
To: All House members
Subject: Fair Prison Phone Services
Did you know phone calls made from prisons and jails are usually collect calls, meaning the call is billed by the minute and the recipient must pay for the call? The rate is often very high and phone companies can charge a connection fee or surcharge to customers. Because many jails charge inmates and their families such high rates, these inmates may be less likely to make calls to their family or the family may be less likely to accept the call.

Not only is this potential lack of connection a burden to inmates’ families, but it affects all Pennsylvania residents. Studies over the past 40 years have indicated those with regular contact with their families while incarcerated are less likely to return to jail or prison in the future. At an average cost of more than $80 per inmate per day the cost savings of having only a handful of inmates not return to jail would cover the loss of telephone revenue.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections recognized the correlation with family contact and currently has a statewide contract to provide prison phone services to all PA State Prisons for a very competitively low rate of $0.059 per minute. Before signing the current contract, the cost was over $0.20 per minute. In just the last five years under the new contract at six cents a minute, there are less return offenders in prison. You do the math.

The problem is in Pennsylvania each County can sign their own contract for their county jails and no two counties are the same. Some clearly post rates or are easy to find online, while in other counties they even failed to respond to inquiries when no information could be found anywhere. My bill would require the following:
  • Encourages inmates to communicate with friends and family members.
    • Seeks to reduce cost of inmate telephone communication, leading to more frequent communication.
    • Seeks to reduce rates of recidivism, as research shows consistent communication during incarceration leads to higher rates of post-release success.
    • May lead to reduced rates of incarceration among children with incarcerated parents or guardians.
  • Will ensure all individuals can find the cost of a phone call prior to receiving a bill.
  • Seeks to enable additional companies to do business in Pennsylvania through the competitive bidding process.
  • Seeks to improve telecommunication services for the counties and the consumers by utilizing the competitive bidding process.
  • Counties using revenue from the inmate telephone system would no longer have access to this source of funding.
  • Counties not in compliance with these policies would be required to renegotiate existing contracts.
Please join me in co-sponsoring this important legislation that helps families and individuals face the fight against recidivism together.

Introduced as HB852