Texas company makes $9M from jail phones contract, Saskatchewan government $1M

A Texas-based company that supplies phone service for Saskatchewan jails has made nearly $9 million, while the province has only received $1 million.

NDP Justice critic Nicole Sarauer says that money should have stayed in the provincial coffers and SaskTel should be delivering the service.

Synergy was awarded the contract for phone service for inmates in 2010.

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Drew Wilby, a Ministry of Justice spokesman, says the government was looking for security improvements to jails after six inmates escaped from the Regina Correctional Centre nine years ago.

Wilby says one recommendation was to get a phone system that could record calls, and there were no Saskatchewan companies that could do that.

He also said SaskTel did not express any interest in the contract at the time.

“It’s a specialized technology that’s required, due to the nature to record the calls, as well to hold them, be able to play them back and utilize that,” said Wilby.

“So, I’m not sure if SaskTel could provide that service or not.”

Sarauer says giving the contract to a U.S. company makes no sense.

“We have a Crown corporation here that could be doing that work. The profits could be then going to the Saskatchewan people through the Crown, instead of going to a company in the United States.”

The government recently renegotiated a new telephone contract with Synergy, which is set to last seven years.

Now, all inmates are allowed one free daily call. Long-distance calls are going down by $5, from $7.50 for 20 minutes, to $2.50 for 20 minutes. Local calls are going up by more than one dollar, from $1.35 for 20 minutes, to $2.50 for 20 minutes. Inmates can also pay $35 a month to make two calls a day on 15 days.

The government says the division of profits from the phone calls remains similar to that of the previous contract.

“Between about $125,000 and $150,000 a year has been returned to the inmate trust, so that’s about 10 per cent of the revenue,” said Wilby.

When asked to explain the cost structure for phone calls, Synergy declined to comment, citing confidentiality.

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