SAN JOSE — Santa Clara County is moving forward with a new vendor to provide inmates with jail phone calls and also tablet access, after instituting safeguards to ensure that inmates’ privileged conversations and correspondence with attorneys and other advocates are not intercepted, inadvertently or otherwise.
A unanimous vote by the Board of Supervisors’ to contract with Cypress-based Legacy also means the county can pilot an 18-month program to offer inmates subsidized phone calls, and shrink a significant barrier for what advocates say is a vital lifeline for incarcerated people.
With Legacy, the county now has a jail-call provider that also provides tablet use in the county jails, touted as a way for inmates to participate in education programs, file grievances electronically, and send emails and messages to select recipients.
The decision also allows the county to move on from the previous phone vendor, Global Tel Link, which has been mired in a scandal in which it was revealed last year that more than 1,000 calls between inmates and their attorneys were improperly recorded and dozens of those were accessed by prosecutors and police.
Similar concerns surfaced in Santa Clara County earlier this year, when a brief extension to the GTL contract gave prosecutors unobstructed access to jail call recordings, as well as what critics called flimsy safeguards against the accidental recording of privileged calls between defense attorneys and inmates.
Largely in response to objections raised by Public Defender Molly O’Neal, the county’s surveillance use policy for both phone calls and tablet messages includes language prohibiting the recording of communications between inmates and attorneys, physicians or clergy. Supervisors postponed their vote on the Legacy contract last month in part to allow policy changes to be made.
“I am also satisfied with the process put in place to require that the District Attorney request calls associated with a specific booking number,” O’Neal said, referring to restrictions narrowing prosecutors’ access to call recordings. “This protocol prevents unfettered access and provides a screening process and audit trail with which I am satisfied.”
O’Neal continues to question the recording of inmate calls as a matter of practice. While recording is legal, and inmates are notified through signage and in-call messages that they are being recorded, O’Neal and other inmate advocates argue that it discriminates against poorer defendants, since those who can afford bail are not subject to being recorded.
“Our jail is full of people from communities of color, thus we are engaging in a practice the disproportionately impacts those communities,” she said, adding that it is “something worth thinking and talking about.”