Statement from Legislator Barnhart:
Sometimes, it’s important to ask.
Sheriff Todd Baxter announced that the Monroe County Jail will offer all inmates two 15-minute phone calls and one 30-minute video call at no charge. This is a savings of $24 a month to inmates and their families.
The compassionate move comes as Covid-19 spreads among inmates and staff. It also comes after numerous citizens spoke at the December 3 Monroe County Legislature budget hearing to speak out against profiting from inmate calls.
I am opposed to profiting from jail calls, so I asked the Sheriff’s Office to make all calls made by inmates free. I suggested that the Sheriff use the remaining $1.6 million in the phone call trust fund for the cost of all calls. That fund is made up of revenue from phone calls in recent years.
The Sheriff’s Office didn’t agree to my proposal, but did agree to work on a limited number of free calls. The current plan for limited free calls will last through the end of the year. The Sheriff will work on legislation for a longer-term solution.
The Sheriff deserves credit for revisiting this issue. That’s because the Monroe County Legislature approved a 5-year phone call contract with Securus Technologies earlier this year. (I voted no because I believe the calls should be free.) That contract lowered the cost of the calls to $1.50 for a 15-minute call. The Sheriff’s Office receives .78 from that call, which goes into the phone call trust fund. The calls were expected to bring in $500,000 this year, money that helps fund jail operations. Providing the calls at-cost would be about $240,000 a year.
The Sheriff is doing the right thing to offer inmates the chance to connect with their families during a scary and stressful time. I look forward to continuing to work with Sheriff Baxter’s office on providing inmates increased access to their loved ones and relieving the financial burden on their families. This is an important first step.