FAIRFIELD — An Oakland-based media group’s account that Solano County receives $600,000 a year from alleged excessive charges for phone calls involving people incarcerated at county sites overstates the amount of money and overlooks state law that requires that funds go to inmate welfare, county spokesman Steve Pierce said.
“I have no idea where that came from,” he said of the $600,000 cited by Media Alliance in a report that appeared on The Huffington Post.
The $401,534 in revenue from phone calls at the county jail goes to the inmate welfare fund to be used for programs that include instruction that allows inmates to get the high school equivalency diploma known as the GED, Pierce said. The $11,834 in revenue from phone calls at a county juvenile facility is spent on sports equipment, haircuts for youths and other matters, he said.
Tracy Rosenberg, executive director of Media Alliance, wrote in “A Tale of Two Prisoners” that someone incarcerated at Soledad Prison can call, without a commission, a family member and speak for 15 minutes at a cost of about $7. State legislation in 2008 ended the commissions – but the measure doesn’t apply to a call made by a 15-year-old at Solano County’s Juvenile Detention Center in Fairfield, Rosenberg said. Calls from county sites face a 72 percent commission, she said, and bring in the $600,000 revenue to Solano County, Ronsenberg said.
She said family contact is crucial to success after incarceration and questioned what Rosenberg called the crazy quilt of differing county and state legislation that she said needs to be a thing of the past.
Rosenberg said Friday that her account was an op-ed piece and not an investigative report. The $600,000 figure was extrapolated from the revenue Contra Costa County made on phone calls, she said.
“I assume the figures are somewhat parallel,” Rosenberg said of the two counties. If Solano County revenues are less, it may be because fewer inmates are in facilities or they make fewer phone calls, she said.
Media Alliance, founded in 1976, describes itself as a media resource and advocacy center for media workers.
County spokesman Pierce said the $401,534 in annual revenues from phone fees at the county jails involves an average daily population of 900 to 1,000 people. He said that staff at the juvenile facility will make it possible for youths to call families without charge and that juveniles are also encouraged to write.
“There’s a lot opportunity for contact,” Pierce said.
Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or [email protected]