York County commissioners renegotiate prison phone contract in attempt to reduce cost to families

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SPRINGETTSBURY TOWNSHIP, YORK COUNTY, Pa. -- Friends and families with loved ones serving time at the York County Prison might soon pay less to phone inmates. It's a story FOX 43 News has been following along with the York Dispatch.

The prison board voted in September to renew it's phone contract with the vendor for three years, and at the same rate. After FOX 43 News ran a story with the York Dispatch, commissioners gave it some more thought. Now, they're working on getting a better deal for families who have loved ones in prison, which in turn could be a good deal for York County taxpayer.

Inmates in prison pay for their crimes by serving time while their loved ones also may pay price of calling to stay in contact.

Keena Minifield paid to use the prison phone system when her fiance was held at York County Prison. She told FOX 43 News in September "a lot of times, I had to decide between talking to him for my sanity or getting things like putting gas in the car."

Each call made using the York County pay phone system cost 25 cents a minute, not to mention additional service fees. It's something in the provider's service contract that York County commissioner and prison board chair Doug Hoke wants to change.

Commissioner Doug Hoke said "we're asking them to reduce that cost, so we can reduce the costs to the inmate, and to the inmate's family, but keeping the 12 cents we now get as a commission from the telephone calls to the prison."

Essentially, county commissioners are asking the pay phone vendor, GTL, to lower its profit margin while keeping the county's cut the same. The county puts the money made from those calls into what could be considered a 'piggy bank' for prison projects.

"We want to keep our revenue stream level, but try to reduce the costs to the inmates and inmates families for telephone calls within Pennsylvania," Hoke said.

"It's a win for the people getting reduced costs for telephone calls, and their families. It's a win for the county to maintain the revenue stream to keep up the costs that we spend at the prison for capital projects, maintenance, and all the things you do there and not put on the backs of taxpayers," Hoke added.

Some may argue those profits are made on the backs of prisoners and their families or that York County Prison already makes extra money from other services it provides.

"Now I know we have ICE detainees. We have people from the state Department of Corrections down there, where we get fees for having them, but there's still a cost. It's a big operation here in York County. The budget is about $50-$52 million," Hoke said.

It's why Hoke wants to keep the county's 12-cent-per-minute commission on the pay phone system.

"I think that having some kind of commission paid back to the prison, for providing the telephone service to these people, is something that I agree with. I think it offsets a burden we put on taxpayers, so I think it is the right thing to do," Hoke said.

Although commissioners voted in September to renew the contract, they still have to sign off on it. If the warden is able to get a better deal, the prison board will have to approve the revised contract at its next meeting on November 14th. That comes just before the contract expires on November 16th.

Read more in the York Dispatch here.