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U.S. firm making millions off phone calls at Sask. jails
Published Monday, May 1, 2017 6:25PM CST
Nine years ago, after six inmates escaped from the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre, the provincial government commissioned a study looking for security improvements.
“Part of the recommendations were for a phone system where we could record and later listen to phone calls if required,” said Drew Wilby, ministry of justice executive director of communications.
The government listened to that recommendation, and awarded the contract to Texas-based company, Synergy, in 2010.
Now, it has come to light that Synergy has made nearly $9 million from phone calls in Saskatchewan jails, while the provincial government has made less than $1 million.
The NDP Opposition says that money should have stayed in the province.
“It doesn't make any sense to me. We have a Crown corporation here that could be doing that work,” said NDP justice critic Nicole Sarauer.
“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 said it isn’t aware of any Saskatchewan companies that are able to provide the same service as Synergy. As well, it added that SaskTel didn't express any interest in the contract when it was signed.
“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.”
The government has 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.