Dallas County reduces cost of jail phone calls for inmates

Dallas County inmates will now pay the second lowest fee in the nation to make phone calls from jail.

After years of profiting off phone calls made by people in jail, Dallas County Commissioners on Tuesday put an end to the practice. The calls will now be funded in part through tablets that inmates will rent for things like movies, music, and games.

Former Dallas County inmate Janor Bradford described in personal terms to commissioners the burden on his own mother, not having enough money to cover the cost of a basic phone call from jail.

“Just imagine calling your mother and it being denied,” said Bradford. "It shattered me as much as it probably did her as well.”

Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch is not often on the same side as the liberal-leaning activist group Texas Organizing Project.

“Most folks know it is impossible to confuse me with a bleeding heart liberal,” Koch said.

But he agreed with organizers Tuesday, that profiting off inmate phone calls is not only morally wrong -- it's costly.

“You break it you buy it. At the end of the day if we break a man, we will see him over and over again, in various ways. It is time we are not in business of breaking people in jail, but bringing them back into the fold,” Koch said.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has been working for years now to bring down the cost of those calls from the recent rate of 24 cents a minute.

“When contract negotiated with community in mind as opposed to the contract negotiated with profit sharing, you get a tremendously different result,” Jenkins said.

The new contract only charges inmates for the actual cost to make a call, just over one cent a minute. The company, Securus, can do it by renting tablets to inmates.

“What they're banking on is that they will make money off of people wanting to watch a movie, or listen to music,” Jenkins said.

Two weeks ago the sheriff had concerns about security and making sure inmates don't abuse their access to the devices. But Tuesday she said her questions were answered.

“We are ready to move forward,” said Sheriff Marian Brown.

Malachi Robinson, with the civil rights organization color of change, flew in from Brooklyn, New York to advocate for the contract that he hopes sets an example for the rest of the country.

“Previous to this they were allowing Securus to price gouge the people they are sworn to serve and protect. That's not only morally wrong, it’s terrible policy. It breeds toxic political environment where people don't trust government,” Robinson said.

The vote on the new five year contract was unanimous.

Dallas County will be losing the $2.5 million it used to get as profit from inmate phone calls each year.