Recent audits of inmate phone contracts revealed that revenues to correctional facilities fall far short of their potential. These shortfalls can be attributed to two basic factors: lack of oversight and administration of the phone system and of the level of expectation. This article will deal with lack of oversight and administration of the phone contract.
Correctional administrators may be unaware they are losing thousands of dollars because their inmate phone system is not operating efficiently. At a time when budgets are tight, inmate phones are a source of substantial revenues. Generally, all or a portion of phone revenues are designated either to offset the costs of inmate programs or to enhance general revenues. But when the system is not working properly-and if staff are not proactively overseeing administration of their phone contracts-thousands of dollars can accrue in lost revenues.
Recent audits of inmate phone systems have identified that oversight of inmate phone contracts is often lacking. Furthermore, performance problems among inmate phone providers are common. By contract, responsibility is on the inmate phone company to provide and maintain quality service. With few exceptions, phone companies do not perform periodic analyses to determine if all phones are generating revenues and if not, why not? They do not systematically review shifts in inmate populations, fluctuations in inmate calling patterns, or policies that impact phone revenues. And, failure to perform these services results in lost revenues.
Correctional facilities cannot substantiate that commissions are accurate and being maximized if there are not the appropriate checks and balances to ensure that the system is operating efficiently, customers are being billed correctly, and revenues are being reported accurately. The key to maximizing revenues is for correctional staff to proactively administer their phone contracts to ensure the expectations and projected revenues of the phone system are met. The steps that should be taken to ensure contract compliance include:
- Maintain an accurate inventory of the phones.
* The inventory should include the phone number and location of each phone and be easily cross-referenced to commission reports. In 100% of our audits, we found the phone count to be off as much as 35%. This discrepancy means that 35% of the phones are not reporting revenues accurately. An Equipment Station Report should be provided by the phone company and kept up-to-date as phones are moved and new cell blocks are opened.
- Have a procedure in place to report trouble when a phone is down.
* Monitor progress of the phone company to resolution. Don't wait for the phone company to identify the problem. Correctional facilities have reported as many as 20% of the phones have been down for weeks at a time.
* Compare the commission statement against the phone inventory to ensure revenues are reported on every phone.
* Phone companies typically do not include phones without revenues on commission reports. The question administrators should ask is, "If phones are not producing revenues, why are they there?" We have identified thousands of dollars of lost revenues because phones with high inmate traffic did not appear on commission reports.
- Monitor phone revenues and inmate calling patterns monthly.
* If the number of inmates has increased significantly and commissions have gone down, something may be wrong. The cost of inmate calls over the past few years has risen sharply. If there are dramatic swings in revenues for no apparent reason, staff should undertake a comprehensive review of the phone system.
* Proactive oversight and management of the inmate phone system and equipment will improve system performance, increase telephone security, ensure telephone company accountability and maximize revenues without increasing call costs.
Barbara La Follette is president of La Follette & Associates Inc., a national consulting firm that assists correctional facilities to maximize revenues without increasing the costs of inmate calls. She can be reached at (800) 313-JAIL, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.