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Published: 8/29/2007

Lucas County jail to get new phone system

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A new telephone system capable of monitoring and recording inmates' calls will be installed at the Lucas County jail, but the project's approval didn't come off without a hitch.

While Jim O'Neal, jail administrator, was making the case to the county commissioners yesterday to enter into a contract with Global Tel*Link for 86 new phones at the jail and the Correctional Treatment Facility, Commissioner Ben Konop raised concerns about the constitutionality of being able to eavesdrop on inmates' phone conversations.

Specifically, Mr. Konop, who is a lawyer, was worried that law enforcement officials would be able to listen to inmates' conversations with their attorneys, which he said was a clear violation of the attorney-client privilege.

Rather than vote on the contract at their meeting yesterday morning, the commissioners decided to give Mr. O'Neal until 2 p.m. to answer the questions raised about Global Tel*Link's system.

Mr. O'Neal presented the commissioners with a sheet containing eight points of information yesterday afternoon, and the commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the contract.

Included in those points were assurances that Lucas County and state bar association members' phone numbers would be entered into the system and phone calls to those numbers wouldn't be recorded.

Mr. O'Neal also said the jail will enter attorneys' numbers into its system that aren't listed with the bar association. He said the jail still provides the option for inmates to call their attorneys from a jail counselor's phone, which is not monitored.

"Sheriff [James Telb] wanted me to tell you guys we're not after anybody's rights here," Mr. O'Neal told the commissioners at the 2 p.m. meeting. "We're here to protect people's rights."

Mr. O'Neal also said any call an inmate makes includes a recorded message to both parties warning them that the call may be recorded, and most lawyers don't accept collect calls from inmates.

Mr. Konop expressed concerns yesterday morning over recording any call an inmate at the jail makes because most inmates have yet to be convicted of the charge for which they're being held.

He called the practice "wiretapping" and compared it to the controversial federal surveillance on domestic phone calls authorized by the Bush Administration. But Mr. Konop later told The Blade he spoke with a few people he considered experts on the issues, who informed him existing case law supports the recording of inmates' regular phone calls, even at the jail.

One of those Mr. Konop consulted, David Harris, a Balk professor of law and values at the University of Toledo, told The Blade that decisions made in courts as high as the U.S. Supreme Court say there is a lesser expectation of privacy in prison.

"As long as it's exposed to inmates that their calls may be recorded, they don't have any expectations of privacy for those phone calls," Mr. Harris said.

Mr. O'Neal said the Lucas County jail's current contract, with EMBARQ, expires at the end of October, and the system includes the capability of recording inmate calls, although the jail hasn't taken advantage of that option.

Mr. O'Neal said the jail is one of the few correctional facilities that doesn't monitor its inmates' calls closely.

Robert Orso, regional accounts manager with Mobile, Ala.-based Global Tel*Link, said the company provides phone service or equipment for correctional facilities in Franklin, Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Montgomery, Mahoning, Summit, and Stark counties as well as several smaller facilities in Ohio. He also said his company is the inmate telephone provider for the Ohio Department of Corrections.

Switching to Global Tel*Link also would make the county more money. Mr. O'Neal projects the county would make $277,830 a year from Global Tel*Link, compared with $267,540 he projects the county would receive if it accepted EMBARQ's new proposal.

A charge is attached to every call - local or long distance - an inmate makes, and the county receives a commission from the contracted phone company's gross earnings.

Contact Joe Vardon at: jvardon@theblade.com or 419-410-5055.



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