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Inmates say they are now being charged for calls at city jail

Complaints sent to Fox San Antonio prompts investigative story into why a call from the City Detention Center cost more than $10.61

SAN ANTONIO - According to Bexar County's Chief Public Defender Michael Young, there is no constitutional right to a free phone call. However, Young says that people detained at the City of San Antonio's Detention Center were getting free calls up until five months ago.

"We noticed first with the male inmates, it seems that they were not giving free phone calls - that they were been charged, or they were told how to set up a certain account to make a phone call," Young says.

The company that has the contract for the phone service at the detention center, Synergy Inmate Phones, claims they provide 2,500 free calls a week.

"I don't know to whom they are giving these phone calls," Young says. "My experience still is that people who are going to Central Magistrate are charged for phone calls that they used to get for free," Young says.

This was only one of a couple of complaints Fox San Antonio received about the phone system at the City Detention Center. Other complaints included the high cost of so called "collect call" - an issue that was brought up publicly during a Bexar County Commissioners Court meeting a few months ago.

Fox San Antonio investigated just how much a collect call from the city detention center costs. Fox San Antonio had several people who had just been detained call us to test the system. What we found was not only expensive but also confusing.

Out of seven calls we received from different people detained at the city detention center, only one had a free phone call that lasted 22 seconds.

Out of the calls we received in a two-month period, the cheapest call cost $10.61.

On March 1, the first collect call we received lasted 44 seconds. We were charged $12.26.

It is more than the $5 average a representative from Synergy Inmate Phones claimed to Fox San Antonio the calls cost.

The company also gave the City of San Antonio the same amount when the city requested the same information for a three-month period last year. The contract with Synergy Inmate Phones gives the City of San Antonio a percentage of what the phone company makes.

"Imagine that right now, you get arrested," Young says. "You are calling to an elderly parent who is 50, 60 or 70 - not very technically savvy, and they are trying to follow these instructions to set up a special account so they can talk to their loved one who is trying to get them out of jail."

According to Young, this is also causing a problem for the Bexar County Jail because some of these people cannot get through to a loved one who could bond them out, so they end up in an already crowded Bexar County Jail.

"Right now, Bexar County pays the cost per person who is locked up. It doesn't cost the city anything to lock up in the county jail. But the city can use their City Magistrate facility to charge people for phone calls, to collect city tickets and things like that," Young says.

Young tells Fox San Antonio that last year, 40,000 to 50,000 people went through the City Detention Center while they waited to see a magistrate. He says 66% of those people were arrested by the San Antonio Police Department.

We would like to hear from you if you've had an issue with a call from the City Detention Center. Please contact Yami Virgin via email yvirgin@sbgtv.com or via Facebook.

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