Province gets ‘kickback’ from inmates’ collect calls, lawyer says – Ottawa

A wall-mounted phone by the steel doors of a jail cellblock is a precious lifeline to the outside for inmates, but in Ontario, calling their loved ones comes at a price.

Inmates can only dial out by placing collect calls. There are no free calls, even if they are local.

Ottawa criminal lawyer Michael Spratt has obtained documents that show the government gets a commission from every collect call made from provincial jails.

“This is a kickback,” he told CBC News. “What I find unconscionable is that the government and corporations are making money off the backs of people who are presumed innocent and in custody.”

Michael Spratt holds up his firm’s telephone bills, which run between $1,000 and $5,000 every month. Most of the costs come from collect calls made by clients in jail, he said. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

Through a provincial freedom of information request, Spratt obtained contracts related to Ontario’s “offender telephone management system” and shared them with CBC News.

The documents detail a seven-year agreement between Bell Canada and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. The contract shows Bell has agreed to pay the Ontario government a commission based on a percentage of all gross monthly revenue generated by the telephone management system until 2020.

This is part of the contract between Bell Canada and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. The percentage commission that Bell pays the Ontario government each month is redacted. (Freedom of Information Request)

The value of the contract isn’t disclosed, but the deal states: “There shall be no charges payable by the ministry under the contract to the supplier unless otherwise agreed upon by the parties in writing.”

The documents include about 1½ pages of redactions, with the exact percentage of the monthly commission Bell is to pay the province scrubbed from public view. 

The phone rate Bell charges is also hidden. But the contract does…

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