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Washington inmates get free phone call today

The telephone lines coming out of the state’s prisons will probably be pretty busy today.

Every state prison inmate gets one free 20-minute long distance call each year, and they could start making this year’s calls this morning, said Maria Peterson, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections.

The calls are funded by the company that provides telephone service to the prison system and don’t cost taxpayers anything, she said.

Inmates can only call people on their approved list, which can be up to 25 names long, and calls must be in-state, she said.

“They dubbed it the birthday call, but it doesn’t have to be taken on an offender’s birthday,” Peterson said.

This is the second year that the vendor, Value-Added Communications Inc., of Plano, Texas, has paid for the call, she said. The call is written into the company’s contract with the state, she said.

Don Kesterson, vice president of engineering for Value-Added, said each call is budgeted at $3.14, plus assorted taxes. With about 16,000 state prison inmates, the calls cost the company more than $50,000 a year, he said.

The cost of the call is deposited into each prisoner’s debit phone call account, and they can make the call anytime, he said.

While he did not have an exact number from last year, Kesterson estimated that nearly every inmate placed a call.

Only inmates who are incarcerated as of Aug. 25 get the free call. Those who come in later have to wait until next year, Peterson said.

Value-Added provides prison telephone services to many states and the federal government, but Washington is the only one Kesterson knows of that requires the free phone call in its contract.

Besides using their debit call accounts, inmates are able to make collect calls or can have calls prepaid by family and friends.



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