ARUNTA PHONE SYSTEM FOR PRISONERS IN NSW CORRECTIONAL CENTRES
The prisoners of Lithgow Correctional Centre have requested that the Lithgow Inmate Development Committee write to you on their behalf and ask that the phone systems heavy burden upon the prisoners at this institution and their families be reviewed. I will outline the problems.
THE PRINCIPAL PROBLEM THE EXCESSIVE COST OF ALL CALLS, IN PARTICULAR STD CALLS
Prisoners are not members of the community, nor members of the public. Prisoners employed in correctional centres work for Corrective Services Industries and are paid wages which at the highest levels do not meet the taxable amount applied to all Australian Citizens in the workforce and as such do not pay income tax. Prisoners are not paid benefits such as, sick pay, holiday pay and workers compensation. If prisoners were members of the community we would receive the same employment benefits as all other members of the public. Prisoners do not receive equal employment wages on par with the community, simply because we are not members of the community. This being said, why then are prisoners charged higher rates and tariffs than the members of the public? When clearly prisoners do not receive the same access and rewards of employment as all members of the public? Below is a copy of the wages paid to prisoners at Lithgow correctional centre. Wages per week.
Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4 Level 5 Level 6 Level 7 Level 8 Unemployed
$14.25 $17.25 $20.25 $20.70 $26.70 $33.00 $39.30 $63.90 $12.75
THE IMPOSITION OF A RECORDED MESSAGE
The recorded message is delivered in a rude and gruff tone. It is upsetting to small children and confusing to ethnic minorities, who often hang up when instructed that this is an option. Before a number is placed on the prisoner's phone an officer of the correctional centre contacts the intended party and the number is verified. If the intended party agrees that the prisoner can call their number, why then is a message required? It is a gratuitous insult. The message is also culturally insensitive to non-English speaking people. It is also a privacy insensitive message, if guests of the intended party answers they will receive unintended information, compromising the privacy of the intended party.
THE IMPOSITION OF A 50c VERIFICATION FEE, FOR ALL NUMBERS INCLUDING LOCAL NUMBERS
I would not think that the prison would be charged 50c for a local call from a staff phone, so why then is the extra charge passed onto prisoners? Is this fee passed onto every call verified? Numbers are verified as a matter of security, why must the customer pay for it?
THE IMPOSITION OF TIME LIMITS ON CALLS
Time limits of 6 minutes are unreasonable. Some prisoners have 2-3 children and cannot talk to all of them in just 6 minutes. Prisoners, can ring back after another prisoner has made a call, this however is expensive. One call of 15 minutes duration would be more cost effective and provide more time to communicate with all family members in one call.The old system of an officer assisted call provided a 15-minute limit 3 times weekly to maximum and medium security institutions such as Lithgow and Bathurst. Prisoners ask for a 15-minute limit to be applied. Time limits are not imposed on public phones and prisoners pay public phone tariffs so the question is; why then is there time limits? Prisoners understand and agree that some time restriction must be placed on calls to ensure the good order and running of the institution. However it has been shown in other jails that time limits of longer than 6 minutes, can apply and work without problem. For example Bathurst jail has 10-minute limits on the Arunta system calls. We ask that a 15-minute limit be the uniform on all calls within NSW prisons, which have the Arunta system. This would give all prisoners more communication with their families, which allows for rehabilitation.
THE POOR QUALITY OF SERVICE
The phone system is quite often down or out of hours because the clock has been set incorrectly, or the line drops out disconnecting the call; Discount rates for public holidays and promotions and reductions for international calls for the many ethnic prisoners are not given. Prisoners pay full tariffs and rates for this poor quality service.
THE REFUSAL TO PROVIDE A COMPLAINT MECHANISM
There is no mechanism in place for prisoners to complain about the phone system. Prisoners are told to write to Telstra. Telstra informs prisoners that they (Telstra) simply have a contract to maintain the lines and have nothing to do with the running of the system. Prisoners are constantly given the run around when it comes to complaints.
THE REFUSAL TO PROVIDE A PRINTED RECORD OF ACCOUNTS
Prisoners are not able to receive a printed account of their phone records, such as cost of calls, calls made etc. Members of the community receive such accounts. Therefore since prisoners pay public tariffs and charges is it not reasonable that they receive the same services? Prisoners who deposit funds into their phone accounts for calls to be made and then without warning are placed on escort to another jail due to court appearances, or routine transfers have their accounts cancelled, however the funds are also cancelled and are not re-credited to the prisoner. For example if a prisoner deposits $10.00 in his phone account on Monday and is on escort Tuesday it appears that the $10.00 is not re-credited, upon his return or transferred to the prisoners new location. We ask where this money goes, because it does not go back to the prisoner? This is an all too common complaint about the service and is unacceptable as it amounts pure and simply to theft.
THE REFUSAL TO PROVIDE PHONE SYSTEM INFORMATION
There is no information available about the phone system to prisoners. Information such as services, fees and procedures.
THE REFUSAL TO PROVIDE ALTERNATIVE SERVICE PROVIDERS
Prisoners have no choice but to accept the service provider, which the correctional centre has contracted. Prisoners pay tariffs and charges at the same rate as members of the community, but get no choice in who provides the service.Those community members can choose whether or not they use, Optus, Telstra, or any other service available. Why then are prisoners forced to have no choice of service provider?
REFUSAL TO PROVIDE SAME REDUCED RATES AS THE COMMUNITY
The Arunta system provides reduced rates for prisoners every Saturday and Sunday. However the department has stated many times that due to the systems computer software reduced rates cannot be programmed into it, yet reduced rates are provided on weekends. The difference on weekends is quite substantial. For example a $6.00 call on weekdays is around $3.80 on weekends.If prisoners must pay higher rates and trariffs than the general community then should we not receive the same benefits of specials and reduced rates? As can be seen by the above wage table prisners do not earn wages on par with the community, yet they pay higher phone rates, shouldn't prisoners at least receive as a Telstra customer the same as the rest of their customers?
By Inmate Development Committee 2 April 03
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