Inmate rates for phone calls could cost jails big bucks

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NEWTON, Kansas – The cost of inmate phone calls is about to get cut in half.

The FCC just passed a new rule to overhaul what it calls “skyrocketing” rates.

The sheriff in Harvey County says it’s bad news.

“This is just not good,” say Sheriff T Walton. “There is a misconception out there, that this is a big money-making thing for us. It just is not.”

Walton says the FCC is going to cap the rate of phone call rates at $3.75 for a 15-minute call.

In Harvey County that will cut the rate in half.

“The money that is made off of the phone system goes back to the inmates,” says Harvey County Sheriff Lt. Scott VanHorn. “It’s an account that is utilized for equipment, uniforms, stuff like that.  This is going to put a strain on us. Put a strain on the county budget. These are things that have to be provided and if we don’t have the money in our account, it has to come from somewhere.”

VanHorn says it may be too early to ask taxpayers for more money. But, he says, it is a math problem.

“It just doesn’t add up for us,” explains VanHorn.  “Inmates do have many ways to communicate, and we encourage them to talk to family. There is email and visits. An inmate that communicates with family is an inmate that will have a better chance at a good life when they get back out.”

But the Federal Communications Commission says communications by phone should cost less.

Walton says he hopes the decision could, eventually, be reversed.

“Well, it looks like we are stuck with this,” says Walton. “I think we are stuck with this unless some calmer heads prevail and try to make them understand that this isn’t a money-making project for sheriff officers and deputies. This is to supplement the running of a jail.”

Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter says his jail rates are already within the tolerances newly mandated by the FCC.

“Our rates will not change based on this,” explains Easter.

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