On income from the incarcerated in Rutherford County

With Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold under investigation by the FBI and TBI over ties to a company selling e-cigarettes to jail inmates, the Daily News Journal has a Sunday story raising questions about other ways officials profit from prisoners.

As an example, the article cites Jerry Martin, who paid a $9.75 fee so his daughter in jail would make six phone calls — and the calls then cost another $32.60. He paid another $4.65 fee to put $20 into an account so that his daughter could buy commissary products, such as soap, while she spent seven days at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center.

“That’s price gouging to me,” Martin said during a recent interview from his Leanna Road home in Rutherford County. “I could go out to one of those check-cashing places and wouldn’t have to pay that kind of interest.”

… When it comes to providing phone services for inmates, the county jail contracts with CTC (City Tele Coin Company). Attempts to reach CTC Vice President David Cotton for a phone interview were unsuccessful.

CTC donated $1,500 to Arnold’s re-election campaign in 2013.

The county jail contracts with Keefe to provide commissary products to inmates. Keefe in 2012 also gave Arnold a $500 campaign contribution, and Randy Hockett, whose employer was listed as Keefe Commissary on election finance records, also donated $500 to Arnold’s campaign in 2013.

Prior to Arnold accepting the campaign money, a contract amendment gave Keefe permission to maintain and supply the Sheriff’s Office with computer equipment and software to expand the Detention Center’s video-visitation system. The amendment is worth “a prorated amount” of $215,106 and is good through Jan. 1, 2018.

… The government revenue cut for inmate phone service came to $242,013 in the previous fiscal year, and the cut for commissary products came to $163,000, County Finance Director Lisa Nolen said.

…Maj. Thompson said he does understand the concerns of families facing the high fees, such as to set up phone services.

“This was negotiated before I got here,” Thompson said. “We’ll take that into consideration when the contract comes up for renewal.”

The families of inmates also face fees from lawyers, bonding companies, probation companies and court costs, Thompson said.

“The sad truth is that when someone is incarcerated, the family pays a financial burden,” Thompson said. “It’s sad but true. The cost is just pushed down to the consumer. Unfortunately, families face the financial burden.”