Supes OK “win-win” jail phone pact
September 20, 2011
The Sheriff’s Department will, indeed, get a new jail phone vendor, promising cheaper calls for families of inmates and a bigger share of phone revenues for the county’s Inmate Welfare Fund.
Under the new contract with Public Communications Services Inc., the county’s share of revenue for the Inmate Welfare Fund will rise to 67.5%, with a guaranteed annual minimum of $15 million. That’s a 30% increase over the $10 million or so that was generated for the fund last year.
Meanwhile, the price of a collect call from jail will be cut from $3.54 to $1.25 for the first minute, with a 15-cent-per-minute charge thereafter. The price of a 17-minute phone call will fall 30% to about $3.65.
“This is a win-win,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who congratulated Sheriff Lee Baca for changing direction three years ago after the Board unanimously denied the department’s request to extend the contract with the current vendor, Global Tel*Link, and insisted that it be put out to competitive bid.
“It wasn’t your original path forward, but once it became the Board’s path forward, you did it with zeal, and I think the results are spectacular.”
PCS was the top scoring bidder among four who were vying for the contract, including the current vendor, GTL. Shortly after PCS submitted its winning bid, the company, then headquartered in Los Angeles, was acquired by GTL, which in the past year or so has acquired at least one other rival and has announced plans to acquire at least two more.
The terms of PCS’ bid are binding regardless of the change of ownership, according to the contract approved by supervisors on Tuesday.
The new contract, which takes effect in November, will cut the price of calls to public defenders via a special speed-dial number to a flat 12 cents per minute. Families of international callers will be charged a 50-cent connection fee in addition to the cost of the call, which will vary according to the country.
Calls to Mexico, for instance, will cost 50 cents to connect plus 50 cents per minute thereafter and calls to El Salvador and Guatemala will cost 50 cents plus 95 cents per minute; calls to most other countries will cost $1.25 per minute after the connection fee.
Sheriff’s officials told the board that the contract will cover some 5,800 phones in the jail and probation system—one of the largest public phone systems in the state.