EBENSBURG – A new contract with the company that provides phone services at the Cambria County Prison will drastically increase revenues from inmate usage of expanded messaging, video calls and apps on electronic tablets, officials say.
During a county prison board meeting Wednesday morning, Warden Christian Smith explained the new capabilities included in a contract with GTL, a company with an office in Altoona that specializes in technology in corrections facility.
The county has already approved the contract, which will give Cambria County inmates access to electronic tablets. Inmates will be able to purchase apps for educational programming, music streaming, movies, messaging and video phone calls.
“All of this is at the cost of the inmate,” Smith said.
The contract includes an annual guaranteed commission of $150,000, Smith said, which reflects a 500 percent increase from the prison’s previous earnings of $30,000 each year for phone-related revenue.
The contract also includes a portable tower that will allow corrections officers to detect cell phones throughout the facility, Smith said.
If inmate use of the electronic tablets exceeds what’s projected, the prison could receive additional revenues, Smith added.
Normal wear and tear of the tablets will be covered by GTL, but inmates will be held responsible for any damage to the devices.
“They’re the wave of the future in corrections,” Smith said.
The prison has also entered into a new contract for commissary which could bring in additional revenue from inmate vending machine purchases.
The $33,000 salary for a previous prison employee who was in charge of distributing and managing commissary will be eliminated, Smith said, and filled by the vendor.
In other cost-saving measures, Smith said he’s looking into converting the facility’s existing oil furnace to natural gas, a move that could save about $1,000 per month.
The furnace currently costs approximately $1,500 each month to provide heat in the prison.
Smith said the facility has also seen improvement in retention of per-diem officers after their hourly wages were increased.
In the past, the prison has filled as little as five of its 30 slots for these corrections officers, who are permitted to work 1,000 hours covering regular and overtime shifts for full-time officers who are on vacation, taking sick time or attending training.
After those hours are reached, they’re laid off and draw unemployment, but prison officials said previously a majority never came back.
At one point, prison officials reported losing per-diem corrections officers every month.
In December, officials approved per-diem corrections officers’ pay from $11.71 per hour to $14 per hour.
Smith said the previous pay rate hadn’t changed in at least 12 years.
Since increasing those wages, Smith said the prison went from a shortage of per-diem corrections officers to hiring 11.
“We’re hoping we may have finally turned a corner when it comes to per-diem officers,” Smith said.