Do Inmates in Washington Really Get a Free Phone Call Today?

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That might be your takeaway from this super confusing AP piece that was picked up by the Spokesman-Review. And "Washington inmates get free phone call today" isn't a very ambiguous headline. But here's what's really going on.

According to Maria Peterson, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, the AP thought it had a juicy tip: it had heard that inmates were getting free, 20-minute phone calls paid for by the state.

The idea of convicted criminals being rewarded at taxpayer expense? Always a good way to get a reader's attention. But the truth is much less outrage-inducing.

Turns out, Washington outsources its prison telephone system to the very bizspeak-sounding Value-Added Communications in Plano, Texas, who also do work in other states and with the federal government.

Phone calls in prison are expensive for inmates. Even an in-state call can cost upwards of 16-cents a minute. So as a means of helping inmates maintain communications with the outside world, Washington required Value-Added to include the free 20-minute calls in its contract -- a contract which doesn't cost the state a dime; Value-Added makes money from the calls themselves -- making it the only state to do so.

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