The Yukon Government is looking at several options to reduce the cost of phone calls for inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. (Yukon News file)

A phone company wants to provide free inmate calls

The idea has not been formally proposed

A U.S. company that lost out on the contract to provide phone services to inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) says it’s now willing to make calls free for them.

This would fall in step with a recent recommendation for the jail to stop charging for phone use.

NCIC Inmate Phone Service appears to be too late. Another Texas-based company, Synergy, recently secured the three-year contract at the WCC.

Late last month, Bill Pope, president of NCIC, informally pitched the idea to Allan Lucier, assistant deputy minister of justice, that his company would yank costs to inmates and instead charge the Yukon government $90 per phone per month.

Pope had cc’d the News on the email sent to Lucier.

“The inmates are getting ripped off,” Pope said, “and their families.”

Lucier responded to Pope’s email with: “Thanks for this I will loop in our Corrections folks and get back to you.”

Aside from this reply, Pope told the News he hasn’t heard from the department about his offer.

In May, David Loukidelis, appointed by the minister of justice, released an inspection report about the (WCC) that included one recommendation to “cease charging clients for local or long distance calls, in order to enhance ongoing connections between clients, their families and their communities.”

The Yukon government hasn’t made a decision on that front, said Dan Cable, department spokesperson.

Pope had reached out to Lucier after the News reported that inmates are being charged $1.35 for each 20 minute, pre-paid, local phone call by Synergy.

Because of these fees, inmates may “not be as inclined to say goodnight to their daughter,” Pope said.

Pope’s company didn’t originally propose a free service. According to NCIC’s March proposal, which was unsuccessful, it would have cost $1.80 to make a pre-paid phone call.

Another section pitched charging $0.17 per minute. The average phone call routed through NCIC lasts four minutes, Pope said. This would equate $0.68.

Synergy, which provides a flat rate charge, is a better bargain, said Cable, who added that calls typically last the 20-minute duration at WCC.

“Synergy has, we think, the better value for the inmates, in terms of the ability to make calls. Your 20-minute call, for instance, is cheaper with Synergy,” said Cable, adding that the price is right for the government, too.

That NCIC would go through the media to protest its loss is “not appropriate,” he said.

The service Synergy is providing is a zero fee system, meaning it doesn’t cost the Yukon government anything to have it installed in WCC.

The small amount of revenue that is generated goes into a revolving fund, which is then contributed to things like victim services.

Pope said he would formally propose his free phone service to inmates if there’s interest.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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