Local News

Wake Collects on Inmate Calls

Posted January 4, 2007 4:42 p.m. EST
Updated January 4, 2007 10:38 p.m. EST

— After the first free call required by law, inmates in the Wake County Jail who want to reach the outside world must call collect, and the county is collecting thousands on those calls.

One hundred phones hang on the walls of the jail. A company called PayTel supplies and maintains the phones, controls the calls and billing and hands over a share of revenues to the jail.

Paytel charges $1.65 for every 10-minute local call, plus fees. A company spokesman said that rate is the lowest for inmates nationwide.

Last year, inmate calls generated $400,000 for the jail's general fund.

"It's saving taxpayers money," said Sheriff Donnie Harrison, whose department manages the jail.

David Aben, the father of an inmate, doesn't like the arrangement. When his daughter was picked up for a probation violation last week and tried to call him to work out legal advice, he said he had to put down a $50 dollar prepayment for calls.

"I really feel like I'm being extorted," Aben said. "I feel like they want me to switch over services or pay them these exorbitant fees just to accept these calls."

The PayTel spokesman said Aben received bad information on the prepayment. The initial charge is $25 dollars, and customers get refunds for minutes that go unused, the spokesman said.

Harrison backed PayTel's policies, saying the company has the right to guarantee payment. Phone access in jail is a privilege, and people can turn down any call from an inmate, he said.

"This is not a hotel. It's not a motel. If not being able to make a phone call keeps them from coming back, that tickles me to death," he said.