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SD County supervisor targets ‘punitive’ cost of inmate phone service, vows to seek reform

10/28/20

 

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher this week turned a routine annual report submitted by Sheriff Bill Gore into a public statement against what he described as excessive telephone charges imposed on jail inmates and their families.

Fletcher, the only Democrat on the Board of Supervisors, said the fees the sheriff’s department charges are too high. He also pledged to work around his board colleagues and pursue change through the state legislature.

Fletcher cast the only no vote on the five-member board’s action to accept the sheriff’s annual report on what is called the Inmate Welfare Fund.

“Charging incarcerated folks 35 cents a minute for telephone calls is punitive,” Fletcher said. “It does not just hurt them; it impacts their family and loved ones. The fees for phone calls and other services puts a sizable economic burden on people who are already struggling.”

According to the sheriff’s yearly update on the inmate welfare fund, the program is critical to department efforts to care for thousands of inmates in county jail. Gore said the funds pay for educational, vocational and behavioral training to help inmates transition back to the local community.

“These types of programs are essential to decreasing the rate of recidivism, contributing to the successful reunification of families and having a direct impact on reducing future criminal behavior,” Gore said.

The sheriff’s department contracts with a private company in Texas called Securas Technologies to provide telephone service in its seven jail facilities. The company pays a portion of its revenue to the county.

Money from phone calls and sales in the jail commissaries pay for the inmate welfare fund.

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In his comments Tuesday, Fletcher noted that county supervisors approved $36 million in spending for parks and waived fees for some businesses to mitigate the pandemic’s harmful effects. He said the board also should have taken steps to reduce costs charged to inmates and their families.

“The system must be redesigned, and I look forward to working with the state legislature on creating a more equitable, less punitive system,” he said. READ MORE