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Prison phone cost to drop 70% in Pa.

| Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014, 10:01 p.m.

The cost for a Pennsylvania inmate to help a child with difficult homework, talk to a spouse or confer with an attorney will drop by nearly 70 percent next month, state Department of Corrections officials announced Wednesday.

Beginning in late evening on Dec. 7, inmate phones will begin switching from Global Tel*Link to a new provider, Dallas-based Securus Technologies. All state prisons should be switched to the new system by early morning Dec. 10, spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said.

Officials have notified inmates and staff of the upcoming change. During the transition, inmates will be limited to collect and pre-paid calls.

Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said the new five-year contract will drop the base price — excluding taxes and commissions collected by the state — from just over 20 cents per minute to about 6 cents per minute.

“The reduction in the phone rate will go a long way to keep inmates connected to their families and friends, which is an important part of the re-entry process,” Wetzel said.

Inmate advocacy group Prison Phone Justice estimated Pennsylvania prisons have been among the worst nationwide in call affordability, behind only Minnesota and Alabama.

Bret Grote, legal director for the Downtown-based Abolitionist Law Center, which litigates on behalf of inmates, said the cost reduction could make a profound difference for inmates trying to keep in touch with friends, loved ones and supporters at home.

“Isolation leads to depression and conduct problems, time in solitary confinement and possible violence, both in the prison and after inmates serve their time,” Grote said. “Anything that ultimately helps them maintain contact with the outside world helps a lot.”

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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