On July 9 California State Assembly will vote on Senate Bill 555, a bill that San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department says can threaten the effectiveness of many of the inmate rehabilitation programs at its county jails.
SB 555, passed by the State Senate 30-5 on May 23, purposes to reduce the costs of communications services and commissary items within county jails by placing limits on the costs of telephone calls and electronic communication services and “require[ing] that commissary items be sold at the cost paid to the vendor supplying the article.”
According to State Sen. Holly Mitchell (District 30 in Los Angeles), who introduced the bill, there is a need to further ensure that communications for inmates and their families are affordable and that the funds go to rehabilitation services.
“This bill will ensure, and this is critical, that any funds collected from these fees are solely used for the benefit of the rehabilitation of the incarcerated people,” Mitchell said, while presenting the bill to the state senate. “This bill does not eliminate the Inmate Welfare fund, it simply restates what current law has already stated.”
“There is evidence that these funds have been misused for purposes that do not directly benefit the rehabilitation of inmates and have been instead used for services that probation departments and county jails should already be providing,” she added.
She gave an example of a jail using inmate welfare funds to purchase security cameras.
Mitchell also believes the bill will press county sheriff departments to negotiate better contracts from private communications companies.
According to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Inmate Services Manager Chris Martin, this bill will dramatically reduce funding for the department’s Inmate Rehabilitation Through Occupational and Academic Development Systems (INROADS) programs. It will also prohibit the use of funding for salary and benefits of personnel working the programs.
The INROADS programs, which do not use tax funds, are completely funded by the Inmate Welfare Fund, Martin said. State law already requires that funds from these fees and services be used solely for rehabilitation services for inmates.
According to a study conducted by the non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative in February 2019, the state average cost for a 15-minute phone call from a jail is $5.70. Within San Bernardino County jail facilities, the average cost of a 15-minute call is approximately $3.
In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed a mandate setting its rate caps on inmate telephone calls and further limiting the types of ancillary charges permitted.
While these rates are still to be approved by the court, interim rate caps are in effect. The rate cap for debit/prepaid calls from jails is 13 cents per minute for state and federal jails, 19 cents per minute in jails with 1,000 or more inmates, and 21 cents per minute in jails with 350 to 999 inmates. According to the FCC, approximately 71 percent of inmates reside in state or federal jails and approximately 85 percent of inmates reside in jails with 1,000 or more inmates.
Martin says these programs are essential to preparing inmates for reentry into the community and they play an important role in reducing the frequency of repeat offenders.
INROADS includes a variety of occupational and academic classes and training programs, substance abuse courses, anger management services, trauma recovery programs, resource fairs, parenting programs and prerelease and reentry support.
The commissary, where inmates can purchase extra items such as candies and other treats, provides job training and experience, as does Glen Helen’s bakery. Inmates are often released with the certifications needed for restaurant and customer service jobs.
INROADS programs are available at all four of the sheriff’s department’s jail facilities ⎯ High Desert Detention Center, West Valley Detention Center, Central Detention Center and Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center. Last year 7,469 inmates participated in INROADS programs.
Angel Markey, who was convicted on drug crimes and is due for release from Glen Helen next month, says the INROADS programs have had a great impact on her drive and ability to change for the better and to prepare for a new lifestyle upon release.
She participated in TALK (Teaching and Loving Kids), in which inmates can have visits with their children in conjunction with parent training.
On Wednesday, June 26, Markey saw her daughter for the first time since March.
“I got to hug her, hold her and talk with her,” Markey said. “It made things a lot easier to have this to look forward to. It helped me be motivated to do things the right way.”
Markey has taken advantage of many of the programs offered at Glen Helen including substance abuse and parenting classes, employment readiness programs and the resource fair. Through the resource fair inmates receive assistance in renewing driver’s licenses, parole processes, job referrals and housing assistance.
“This has helped me secure an exit plan and extra options,” Markey said. “I now have a Plan A and Plan B where before I had no plan at all. I have so much information and support when I get out I won’t be homeless, won’t need to return to drug houses.”
Markey has leads for jobs and housing upon release and plans to train for a career as a heavy equipment operator.
Celie Calvert, who is also coming up on her release date, says the prerelease support is especially important in making real changes in inmates last.
“It’s a whole different feeling when you’re being released,” Calvert said. “There’s a lot of anxiety and fear that can make it easy to fall into old habits.”
Calvert added that the programs also help inmates keep focused and not become influenced by the “negative networking” that can happen in jail.