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United Way of Lancaster County


County eyes a lower, single rate for prison phone calls

(Source: Securus Technologies)

Inmates in Lancaster County Prison would pay a little less for phone calls under a temporary extension of the facility’s phone contract being proposed by the county’s Purchasing Department.

Currently, the cost per minute for a call ranges from 17 cents for local calls to 25 cents for calls outside Pennsylvania. That would change to a flat rate of 15 cents for every call category, Director Linda Schreiner told the Prison Board at its monthly meeting Thursday morning.

The prison’s phone service is provided by vendor Securus Technologies. The contract expires in September and could be rebid; but because prison operations will be moving to a new facility in a couple of years, it’s more prudent to stick with Securus, Schreiner said.

Securus has its own secure closed-network system installed at the prison now, which allows inmates to make calls from tablets or kiosks. If a new vendor came in, it would likely have to rip out Securus’ system and install its own. That wouldn’t be cost-effective, Schreiner said, given the short period of time the prison will remain in use.

Like any county contract, the extension would require approval by the county commissioners. The administration plans to bring it before the commissioners the week of Jan. 22, according to the administrative report in the Prison Board’s meeting packet.

The county receives a sizeable commission out of the revenues Securus derives from calls: It gets 88.4% of the proceeds, with a guaranteed monthly minimum of $48,000 per month, Schreiner said.

Under the proposed extension, that would drop to 81.5%, she said.

Between that and the lower rates, county revenue from phone service is expected to drop, Schreiner said. County officials did not immediately respond to a follow-up inquiry regarding how much.

Advocate Kent Kroehler has consistently urged the county to reduce or eliminate its commission on both phone service and commissary sales, saying it is taking undue financial advantage of a literally captive population.

The county has made reductions, but the commissioners have resisted doing away with the commissions entirely. They somewhat offset the burden on county taxpayers, Commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino have said.

Both revenue streams go toward the Inmate General Welfare Fund, which supports transportation services, reentry programs and other purchases that directly benefit inmates. None of it goes toward staff or general operations, Warden Cheryl Steberger said: “That’s a strict policy.”

When the fund exceeds $500,000, however, the extra money is transferred to the county’s general fund. In 2022, then-Commissioner John Trescot proposed raising the cap, but was defeated.

On Thursday, the Rev. Jason Perkowski of Power Interfaith called on Steberger and her team to make sure as much of the fund as possible is spent on inmates, keeping the surplus to a minimum. He also asked for information on the fund’s activity and balance to be included in the monthly Prison Board reports.