County correctional officials, inmate phone service providers, and inmate advocates testified by the House Judiciary Committee on January 12 regarding inmate phone services. County officials included Mary Lou McDonough from Prince George’s County, Captain Michael Merican from Saint Mary’s County, and George Hardinger from Carroll County.
Typically, inmates at a local jail must use a special phone and secured line to place calls to an approved list of individuals. The calls are essentially “collect” and the cost may either be debited out of an account maintained by the inmate or the person being called. The call can be recorded, subject to voice recognition, or be set to alert correctional officials if certain key words, such as “kill” or “bomb” are used during the call. Counties receive a commission on each call, with the money going into an inmate welfare fund, educational programs, or the general fund of the County.
Members of the Committee expressed concerns over the costs of the calls and whether inmates were being unfairly charged. Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario and Delegate Michael Smigiel wanted to make sure that it was easy for attorneys to receive calls from inmates. They were assured by inmate phone service providers that it was easy for an attorney to set up a single account that covered multiple jurisdictions and that an attorney’s number could be placed on a list that was exempted from being recorded.
Delegate Luiz Simmons wondered about the feasibility of identifying low risk inmates and allowing them greater freedom to call from standard phone lines. He considered the current system to be a “one-size-fits-all” system. Committee members also asked questions concerning the use of cellphones, email, and the Internet by inmates in local jails.