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FCC regulation could cost Westmoreland jail $250K a year

Renatta Signorini
gtrctyprisonpd012616
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
The Westmoreland County Prison on Jan. 25, 2016.

The Westmoreland County Prison is looking at the potential loss of about $250,000 in annual inmate phone call commissions, Warden John Walton said.

“We could lose that revenue,” he said. “There’s no way to make that up.”

An amended contract with the prison’s phone service provider — Global Tel*Link or GTL — must be in place by June 20 to comply with Federal Communications Commission regulations that will eliminate most ancillary fees charged to inmates who make phone calls.

Inmates are charged 45 cents per minute for phone calls, 69 percent of which comes back to the jail as revenue, Walton said. The provider charges an additional flat amount for placing a call and other fees, he said.

The FCC’s regulations could drop the cost of calls to about 16 cents per minute, the warden said.

GTL representatives spoke with prison board members Monday. The commissioners ultimately will have to approve any contract amendments with the company that may be necessary to bring the county’s system into compliance, Walton said.

“They’re going to have to determine what steps they have to take,” he said.

The board will sort through its options in the coming months, Commissioner Ted Kopas said.

“Certainly, the FCC changes have put the Westmoreland County jail … in a tough spot,” he said. “Phone revenue is a significant source of income.”

The FCC mandated the changes in October to make calling options fair and more affordable to inmates and their families. GTL is appealing part of the FCC order pertaining to rate caps on calls.

The U.S. Court of Appeals has issued a stay on the caps, but restrictions on other fees are set to take effect in June.

“Things are changing,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson. “The revenue that we’ve been getting … it looks like there’s some modification being made.”

Commissioner Gina Cerilli declined to comment because the matter was discussed during an executive session.

The contract with GTL runs through October, and the county has the option to extend it for a seventh year, Walton said. Under the agreement, the prison is guaranteed $250,000 annually, but the payment could increase based on the number of calls made. Last year, the prison’s revenue for calls was closer to $260,000, he said.

“This is the most we’ve ever gotten,” he said.

The prison board meeting, originally set for 10 a.m., was moved to 9 a.m. last week after a scheduling conflict. The change was properly advertised.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374 or [email protected].

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