Barnhart Concerned About Continuing to Profit From Inmate Phone Calls

  • Although plan lowers costs, Barnhart believes the calls should be at-cost or free
  • Sheriff revealed existence of $3.4 million slush fund from phone call profits

County legislator Rachel Barnhart has concerns about a plan to continue charging Monroe County Jail inmates for phone calls. Legislation will be voted on at the November 12 meeting.

Read the Democrat and Chronicle’s coverage of this issue.

Read City Newspaper’s coverage of this issue.

Under Sheriff Todd Baxter’s proposal, the cost of a 15-minute phone call would be reduced from $3.25 to $1.50, or 10 cents a minute. The at-cost rate for the phone calls is 3 cents a minute. The county would keep 78.5 percent of the profits on each call.

“While it’s encouraging to see Sheriff Baxter lower the cost of inmate phone calls, we should be offering this service for free or at-cost,” Barnhart said, noting that New York City now offers inmates free phone calls.

The cost to provide inmates free phone calls is estimated to be $237,000. The Sheriff’s office expects to collect $500,000 in profits from the calls next fiscal year.

The office revealed it has a Telephone Trust Fund that has $3.4 million from phone call profits. The fund is used for operational expenses at the jail. There is no record of this fund in the county budget document.

“The operations of the jail should not be funded on the backs of inmates and their families, many of whom have limited resources,” said Barnhart. “We need a better accounting of the Telephone Trust Fund and a discussion about how to fund the jail.”