OKLAHOMA Co. officials try new phones for inmates

Saturday, July 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Inmates generally don't find any part of the Oklahoma County Jail appealing, but Pod 8-D has become the facility's destination spot, officials say.

Officials had 50 telephones installed in individual cells in that section several months ago. Only 100 of the 2,200 inmates in the high-rise facility have access to the new phones, while the others have to share six phones per pod in the common rooms.

``We have inmates throughout the jail ... asking to go to that pod,'' said detention officer Jason Ledford, who is coordinating installation of the phones.

The phones have no exposed cords or handsets, and are securely attached to the cell walls. Inmates have to squat and press their heads awkwardly against the encased receivers in order to talk.

The new phones allow inmates a link to loved ones, offer a rare bit of freedom in a carefully controlled environment and provide incentive for them to behave. Those who live in the 50 cells equipped with the phones will be moved to other cells if they violate jail rules.

Jail officials said the jail's 46 percent take of the phone earnings will help defray the expenses of jail necessities such as blankets, pillows and clothing.

A collect call to a local number costs $2.90 for 15 minutes. A long-distance collect call is $3 plus a per-minute charge ranging from 3 cents to 40 cents, depending on the distance from the jail.

``Any profit made must go back to the operational expenses of the jail,'' said Capt. Bobby Carson, operational commander of the jail.

The phones were installed by Value Added Communications of Fort Worth, Texas, as a subcontractor for Dallas-based CTI, which contracts with 113 facilities in the Federal Bureau of Prisons system.

Inmates can only make collect calls from the phones now. The people they connect with hear an automated message warning them they are receiving a call from an inmate at the jail.

Carson said the automated message should protect businesses from a phone scam popular with inmates in other locations.

Individual numbers can be blocked from the system, preventing inmates from making nuisance calls. If jailers suspect an inmate is using a phone for an illegal purpose, they can make arrangements to monitor future calls.

``All we would have to do is present probable cause to a judge, and he could issue a court order, and we could monitor,'' Carson said.

Soon, inmates will be able to make calls directly _ bypassing the collect call safeguards _ by purchasing prepaid airtime out of their trust accounts, which are generally used to buy personal items at the jail store.

Calling costs will be the same, but calling privileges could be enhanced _ and that could open the door for scams and mischief.

``With the trust accounts, they can call anyone they want to unless that number is blocked,'' Carson said.

Carson said the phones could be used for illegal activities, but jailers believe the benefits outweight the potential disadvantages.

Eventually, officials would like to install phones in every cell below the 10th floor, where maximum security inmates are held. About 100 more phones are expected to be installed in the next month.

``I have thought for two months about what a downside to this could be, and I haven't found one yet,'' Ledford said.