A well-known, longtime legislative aide, Bruce Timmons, now retired, has just sent this plea to “reporters who cover the state capitol,” a far smaller group than it used to be:
“Five weeks ago I alerted most of you to the (to me, nefarious) mis-use of restricted revenues in the State Budget, in particular the inmate telephone contract that overcharges inmates for phone calls to the benefit of the Corrections Department more than the vendor – all because of a contract that MDOC enters into to its own benefit, to the detriment on inmates trying to maintain contacts with their families while incarcerated.
“As you likely know, this next week is when budget subcommittees are expected to make their decisions that they will then send to the respective full Appropriations Committees in both houses – where full Approps more often than not rubber-stamps the Subcommittee recommendation that will go the Floor for a vote. So what happens next week in subcommittee is usually the proverbial “ball game” for this year’s budget cycle.
“One of those issues in the Corrections budget ought to be the inmate phone surcharge and what subcommittees plan to do with the ‘surcharge’ money and whether they will modify Sec. 219 (in the boilerplate) to prevent further misuse of inmate phone calls to fund the Corrections budget.
“It might be worth calling the respective subcommittee chairs, the Dem vice-chairs, MDOC itself, and even the Governor’s office yet this week with regard to what they plan to do with regard to inmate phone charges and the revenue the telephone contract produces for FY 2021-22 – and basically put them on notice that the press is watching. Otherwise they assume no one cares, so why change anything.
“This issue got some media attention early in February, but has again slipped off the radar. Next week is the opportunity to help make a difference – just by asking what legislators, the department, and Governor plan to do. Otherwise, the unfair inmate phone surcharge will continue for another year (or longer).”
Timmons contends that other issues remain in contention, i.e., 1) The use of crime victims’ rights money to pay for development of a statewide trauma system (buried so deep in the DHHS budget you cannot find it in the budget bill or budget summaries) and 2) The use of a dwindling juror compensation reimbursement fund to balance the Judiciary budget instead of facilitating compensation to jurors..