Monday, November 12, 2007

I'll believe it when it happens

Why can't that $3.5 million be used for something worthwhile?

From the Dallas Morning News archive
10:34 PM CDT on Tuesday, October 30, 2007
By KEVIN KRAUSE / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas County is getting closer to offering cheaper phone service for inmates, cutting in half the fees families must pay to receive collect calls from the jail.

Vendors vying for the lucrative jail phone contract say they also can offer an additional service – recording systems that can be programmed not to tape phone conversations between inmates and their attorneys.

Accepting a collect call from a Dallas County Jail inmate costs an automatic $4.10 for up to 15 minutes. Dallas County got 55 percent of the revenue that AT&T generated from those calls, which last year came to $3.5 million.

Earlier this year, the contract came back up for grabs after AT&T told county officials that it would not renew its 13-year agreement under the same terms when the deal expired in April.

Commissioner John Wiley Price has led the effort to cut the collect call fee to $2, saying families shouldn't have to pay an exorbitant amount to talk to loved ones in jail.

"That's going to make all the difference in the world," he said last week.

This summer, four firms were chosen to negotiate their final and best offers with county staff. Negotiations are still under way.

Calls between inmates and their lawyers have been recorded at the jail for more than a dozen years.

Public Defender Brad Lollar said he only recently learned about it. He said he and the criminal-defense bar have serious concerns about the taping.

The taping of inmate calls has been highlighted by the recent disclosure that Hunt County prosecutors have been listening to recorded conversations between inmates and their attorneys.

Mr. Lollar said he was told that detectives listen to some inmate phone conversations for investigative purposes. He said the Sheriff's Department told him that investigators don't listen if the conversation is with an attorney.

But he said he wants more of a guarantee.

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