Saskatchewan

Phone calls to cost Sask. jail inmates

Prisoners in Saskatchewan's four provincial jails will soon have to pay to make phone calls to people other than their lawyers, the government says.

Prisoners in Saskatchewan's four provincial jails will soon have to pay to make phone calls to people other than their lawyers, the government says.

The fees will be used to pay for a monitoring system officials hope will help crack down on illegal activities conducted through telephone contacts.

"The whole purpose is to increase the safety and security of our facilities by reducing the amount of illegal activity that goes on," Judy Orthner, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety, said Friday.

A call within the local area will cost an inmate $1.35, the province says.

Inmates may also make long-distance calls at a rate of $1 for the initial connection and 30 cents per minute.

Calls to lawyers and the provincial ombudsman's office will remain free and those conversations will not be monitored. 

Orthner said the monitoring system is new to Saskatchewan jails.

"There was no real mechanism for Corrections to monitor their calls, other than overhearing a call or perhaps another inmate talking to the administration about some activity going on," Orthner said.

While the system is supposed to provide for improved security, concerns have been raised about the effect on inmates.

"The whole idea of having to pay for calls … many of them can't because there is no money," Ruth Robillard, the executive director of a support group called Friends on the Outside, said Friday. "I believe that this should be rethought."

Officials say family and friends of inmates can contribute to a prisoners' phone account.

As well, an inmate may ask the director of a provincial correctional facility for free calls should the cost prove prohibitive "because we certainly don't want to impose any hardship on any of our inmates," Orthner said.

The cost of the new system, which is expected to be operational in two weeks, has not been disclosed.

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