Ben Parker / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

As of Feb. 28, the Tompkins County Jail has cut the cost of inmate phone calls by more than half.

March 3, 2020

Tompkins County Jail Reduces Cost of Inmate Phone Calls, Renegotiates Contract to Provide iPads for Inmates

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Once one of the most expensive jails in New York for inmates to place calls from, the Tompkins County Jail has cut the cost of inmate phone calls by more than half the price as of Feb. 28.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Tompkins County Jail inmates pay $9.95 to make a 15-minute phone call as of November 2018. However, a renegotiation of the contract between the jail and Global Tel Link Corporation — the company that provides the jail’s phone services — has reduced the cost of calls from 32 cents per minute to 15 cents.

The Global Tel Link Corporation provides phone services to around 2,300 U.S. facilities, serving about 1.8 million inmates, according to its website. They have implemented similar changes in other towns as well, including Rochester and San Francisco.

The renegotiation was announced nearly 18 months after New York City became the first major city to make inmate phone calls free in August 2018. According to the New York Post, this change resulted in a 30 percent increase in the number of phone calls made by inmates.

Tompkins County sheriff Derek Osbourne hopes that the change will make inmates’ time in prison more fair.

“Most often, when somebody is in the jail, it’s the loved ones outside of the jail that foot the bill for the phone calls because the inmate, quite honestly, doesn’t have money too often,” Osbourne said. “And I learned that a contract had been in place for several years, and the cost was astronomical.”

When an inmate makes a phone call, there must be a “receiving party” who accepts the charge of the phone call before the call can go through, according to the Tompkins County Corrections Division website.

Osbourne explained that the renegotiation process required a lot of back and forth with GTL, because he wanted to ensure that the changes did not require an increased budget for the sheriff’s office budget. This goal was eventually met: according to Osbourne, the new contract poses no additional costs and will not affect taxpayers.

As another component of this contract, which is still in preliminary stages of implementation, Global Tel Link will be providing the Tompkins County prison with iPads free of charge. These iPads will be used for “video visitations” and Khan Academy, according to Osbourne.

Although this feature is in the contract with GTL, there is no date of implementation set yet — GTL has to set up servers and manage other technical details before the project can be rolled out.

This announcement comes around a year after New York state announced on February 2018 that all of its state prisons will provide tablets for each of their 51,000 prisoners.