- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - An inmate advocacy group is seeking a reduction of phone fees charged to prisoners in regional jails.

Stories from South Central said the West Virginia Division of Corrections is reducing fees for inmate phone calls at the state’s prisons, and the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facilities Authority should follow suit.

“Isolation is one of the ways that prisons break people down,” Jonathan Sidney, a volunteer with Stories from South Central, said in a news release. “Making it cheaper for people doing time in West Virginia to stay in touch with friends and family improves their quality of life and make re-entry to the outside world easier.”

The fee reduction at prisons is due to a different vendor winning the contract, Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina told The Charleston Gazette (http://bit.ly/1JdGo4d ).

“I will add that (Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein) was hoping for a vendor that would provide as reasonable a cost as possible to inmates because we do recognize the importance of family, friends and community,” he said.

Messina said the regional jail authority hopes to obtain the best deal for the regional jail system and inmates when it awards a new contract. Its current contract expires at the end of August.

Under its previous contract with GTL, the Division of Corrections charged a 46 percent commission on each phone call. Inmates also paid surcharges of 85 cents for collect calls and 75 cents for prepaid calls, plus per-minute fees ranging from 16 cents in-state to 50 cents for collect calls out-of-state.

The rate for all calls will be 3.5 cents per minute under the division’s new contract with ICSolutions, or CenturyLink, while the commission rate will be 0.1 percent. The contract will take effect in prisons later this summer.

Eric D. Ayers, a former inmate, said the previous rates prevented him from talking to his young children as often as he wanted while he was incarcerated for a year.

“If you’ve got kids and you can’t talk to your kids, it just makes everything so much harder,” he told the newspaper.

Ayers said many inmates could not afford the rates.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com

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