Prison inmates in Ontario might soon be allowed to call cell phones

It seems Ontario might finally be ready to move into the 21st century and develop a new system that would allow prison inmates to call cell phones.

That’s right, the province’s current Prison Phone Contract, which expires at the end of the month, only allows inmates to make calls to landlines.

On top of that, every outgoing call from an Ontario prison is a collect call, meaning the person on the other line is charged every time they receive a call from an inmate. 

The contract was signed by the Ministry of Correctional Services and Bell back in 2013, prompting some to call Bell out for hypocrisy surrounding its #BellLetsTalk campaign and the Prison Phone Contract. 

“For all @Bell says about ‘talking about mental health’ and ‘ending the stigma,’ thousands of people inside prisons literally *cannot* talk to their friends and family when they’re experiencing a crisis or mental health issues,”reads a tweet in a thread by the Toronto Prisoner’s Rights Project.

So why does @Bell, a company that promotes themselves through mental health initiatives, contribute to these conditions and make it so much harder for those in prison to get help? What use is #BellLetsTalkDay if Bell is making things worse the other 364 days of the year?

— Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project (@letstalkjails) January 11, 2020

Bell and the ministry have also both been criticized for profiting financially off of this system.

“Unfortunately, stories of incarcerated persons’ families being plundered by telecommunication providers, with the [Ministry of the Solicitor General] playing the enabler’s role and receiving kickbacks in the process are the rule rather than the exception in Ontario,” reads a report on Ontario’s prison phone system by @CPEPgroup

“This begs the following questions: How can the Ministry responsible for community safety and effective reintegration justify measures which serve as a barrier for these goals to be achieved, especially for families of prisoners that experience economic strain?”

@Bell profits directly from the phone call costs, and the Ministry receives a kickback. That means both Bell and the government are gouging families trying to contact their loved ones and people reaching out to friends, then splitting the profits.

— Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project (@letstalkjails) January 11, 2020

Thankfully, the harmful contract is coming to an end and the ministry is looking to replace it. 

According to the Canadian Press, Kristy Denette, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, said the government is actively working on a procurement process for a inmate phone system that will allow for calls to cellphones as well as international numbers.

Better late than never, I suppose.

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