York County Prison Board does not discuss phone contract as anticipated

David Weissman
York Dispatch
York County Commissioner and York County Prison Board President Doug Hoke following a Prison Board Meeting at York County Prison in Springettsbury Township, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The York County Prison Board was expected to discuss a prison telecommunications contract during its meeting Tuesday, Oct. 10, but the topic was never broached.

The contract with Global Tel Link, or GTL, was the subject of a special report published in The York Dispatch on Sept. 19 and featured on the Fox43 News 10 p.m. broadcast on Sept. 18.

The reports showed that prisoners' families are paying rates far higher than those charged at state correctional facilities for phone calls with their loved ones, while GTL provides the county about $900,000 per year in commissions.

More:Special report: York County Prison maintained by 'phone tax' on prisoners' families

More:York County commissioners want more info before renewing prison phone contract

The board had unanimously voted to approve a three-year renewal of that contract during its last meeting, on Sept. 12, and commissioners could have finalized the renewal as early as Sept. 20, during their bimonthly public meeting.

The contract did not appear on the meeting agenda, though, and Commissioner Doug Hoke, who serves as president of the prison board, told The York Dispatch the board would wait to discuss the contract further at the next meeting before finalizing it.

Asked why the contract wasn't discussed Tuesday, Hoke said he had not remembered that the contract was already approved by the prison board when he told The York Dispatch it would be discussed further.

He said he would've been happy to discuss it further if another board member brought it up, but he wasn't going to bring it up.

President Commissioner Susan Byrnes was not present for Tuesday's prison board meeting. In response to a voicemail seeking her thoughts on the contract, Byrnes said through a county spokesman that, "for today on this topic," she would defer to Hoke as president of the prison board.

Hoke said any further discussion will come during a commissioners meeting when the contract appears on the agenda. The commissioners' next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18.

Contract: The county's contract with GTL, which was originally signed in 2003 and has been renewed and amended several times since, expires on Nov. 16.

York County Prison Warden Clair Doll speaks during a Prison Board Meeting at York County Prison in Springettsbury Township, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Under the current contract, phone calls from the prison cost 25 cents per minute plus various billing fees. The county receives a commission of 12 cents per minute but only on intrastate calls.

The county does not receive a commission on interstate calls, the rates the Federal Communications Commission capped at 25 cents per minute in 2016.

The FCC tried to do the same for calls within a state, but it was challenged by companies, including GTL, and a federal court placed a hold on capping those rates pending further legal review.

When President Donald Trump appointed a new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, the commission backed out of its court challenge, which is still being pursued by prisoner advocacy groups.

Seven states, including New York, have altered state law to forbid commissions from prison telecommunications contracts, and the prices have dropped as low as 1.25 cents per minute in Nebraska, according to Prison Phone Justice, a nonprofit organization that monitors rates.

York County Prison doesn't have the highest rates in the state — Wyoming County Correctional Facility charges $2.68 for the first minute and then 68 cents per minute.

Still, the rate charged in York County is far more than the 6 cents per minute charged at all state-run prisons.

The money the county receives from GTL goes into the county's Inmate Telephone Revenue Fund, which is spent on items and services at the prison ranging from roof repairs to body-armor vests for the guards.

Hoke said he hasn't made up his mind regarding how he will vote in finalizing the contract, but he pointed out that the additional funding provides a needed revenue source to keep up standards at the prison without burdening county taxpayers.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.