One recommendation made in May in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre inspection report calls for the facility to “cease charging clients for local or long distance calls.” (Yukon News file)

Department of Justice undecided on whether to make inmate phone calls free

The issue was raised during question period on Nov.15

The assistant deputy minister of justice said it’s too early to tell whether a recommendation to make inmate phone calls free at Whitehorse’s jail will be implemented.

Allan Lucier, whose portfolio includes corrections, said that, at face value, it would appear to be an easy decision, but it’s not, noting that it’s currently before a working group.

“Many of the individuals in the center are under court order to have no contact,” Lucier said. “If we had no system, such as an open line, there would be no way to ensure that we weren’t contributing to the possibility that people would make contacts to victims and others they have no contacts with.”

In May, David Loukidelis, appointed by the Department of Justice, released an inspection report about the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC). It includes one recommendation calling on corrections to “cease charging clients for local or long distance calls, in order to enhance ongoing connections between clients, their families and their communities.”

The issue came up during question period on Nov. 14, with NDP Leader Liz Hanson asking whether Loukidelis’ recommendation will be acted on.

Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said, at one point, that the recommendation needs to be addressed by the working group.

Hanson said in the House that inmates are charged $2.40 per local call.

Lucier, however, told the News that, according to his information, clients pay $1.35 for each 20 minute, pre-paid phone call.

Some calls are free, he added, to Legal Aid, for instance, probation services or to the legislative assembly.

The system is also controlled because there are remanded individuals at WCC, Lucier said. Eliminating the possibility of them reaching out to witnesses must be protected, he added.

The current phone system came into effect in late June of this year. The company is Texas-based Synergy, which has a Canadian operation in Alberta.

The current system is consistent with phone provisions in correctional institutions across the country, Lucier said, both federally and provincially.

It’s a “zero fee system,” in that it doesn’t cost YG anything to have inside WCC, he said.

“The funds generated, in part, pay for the system.”

A small amount of revenue is created, he said, which goes into a revolving account at WCC.

“It is accounted for there, by the Department of Justice finance folks, and a portion of that is remitted to the Crime Prevention and Victim Services Trust Fund, which is a board-governed funding body” providing money to community groups that focus on crime prevention or victim services, he said.

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

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