Elmwood Jail

Federal Ruling Slashes Cost of Out-of-State Inmate Phone Calls

The cost of out-of-state phone calls just got a whole lot cheaper for inmates. (Photo via Department of Corrections)

A federal ruling will dramatically cut the cost of out-of-state phone calls for Santa Clara County inmates, making it actually cheaper to dial long distance than local. The Federal Communications Commission handed down a directive this month that drops the price for inmates calling to another state by 85 percent, though it’s been met with legal opposition from the phone companies that have a monopoly on jail and prison telecommunications. Global Tel-Link, the service provider for the 700 phones at both Elmwood Jail in Milpitas and the main jail in San Jose, is asking a judge to delay the ruling.

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County Sheriff’s Office Scraps Proposal to Limit Jail Mail to Postcards

Stacey “Steeda” McGruder, right, helped bring awareness to a proposal by the Sheriff’s Office to limit jail mail to postcards. The proposal was scrapped last week. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)

Santa Clara County inmates will continue receiving mail after jail officials abandoned a contentious plan to limit correspondence to just postcards. Jail chief John Hirokawa originally brought up the idea earlier this summer in hopes of limiting the amount of drugs smuggled in through envelopes or postage stamps. But the community put up a fight, saying the mail restriction could dry up prisoners’ ties with friends, family and life outside their cell. The county jail and Elmwood Correctional Facility receive about 200,000 pieces of mail a year. If the postcard-only policy passed, the county would have become the first in Northern California to enact such a ban and one of a few-dozen in the nation.

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Community Activists Cite Civil Rights Concerns with Jail Mail Policy Changes

Salvatore Lombardo, a custody support assistant at Elmwood Correctional Facility, says he doesn’t feel unsafe opening mail at the county jail.

The sheriff’s office recently proposed limiting all mail sent to inmates to postcards instead of the envelope-enclosed letters currently allowed. Sorting through the 200,000 letters a year is tedious, jail officials say. Some of the letters are soaked, spliced or stamped with drugs: PCP, acid, meth and other contraband. Some contain needles. Some hide gang communications. The idea of switching to simply postcards—outside of inmates’ communications with their attorneys—would save money and time. But families and friends of inmates, as well as community activists, argue that the change would constitute a civil rights violation and endanger the rehabilitation of those incarcerated.

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County Makes Correct Call on Jail Letters

County jails are studying how to handle the mail of inmates to keep out contraband. (Photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Most people do not consider jail inmates to be an empathic interest group. But many in custody are innocent, as they have not yet been proven guilty, and as a matter of law and right they must be treated justly. That’s why the Santa Clara County Department of Corrections (DOC) was right in halting a new proposal to limit mail in county jails.

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