The prisoner phone system at the city of Sunnyside's jail will be upgraded at the cost of $400 per month thanks to approval by the Sunnyside City Council last night.
The commissions the city receives for prisoner use of the jail phones exceed the cost of the upgrade by between $250 and $800 per month.
Chief Ed Radder told the city council the city currently receives 22 percent commission, but will receive 10 percent commissions under a new plan with Securus, the service provider. The commissions will continue to exceed the expenses of the upgrade.
Securus, he said, took over Evercom, the company the city of Sunnyside previously contracted with for services. Evercom was bought out by Securus.
"The system worked very well the past eight to 10 years and the contract will be expiring," said Radder.
The new system has numerous advantages, he said. One of those advantages is a phone tree feature. That feature will allow automatic notifications to be phoned to those with connections to the inmates housed at the Sunnyside City Jail.
Radder said a feature that appeals to him is the videocom system, which will allow hearings to be conducted without inmates being moved.
"Every time we move a prisoner around, it's a recipe for trouble," he said.
Video hearings can be conducted from Yakima to Sunnyside, requiring fewer transports and providing officers the ability to spend time patrolling the community.
"I've drug Sgt. (Andrew) Gutierrez through the knothole on this," said Radder, noting the corrections sergeant put together the contract and proposal for the phone system upgrade.
Gutierrez told the council there are about 3,700 visitors to the city jail on an annual basis. The new phone system would provide the jail the opportunity to schedule inmate visits and those visits would be recorded on video with the new phone system.
"Currently, we have audio recordings, but there is no way to confirm who is involved in conversations," he said.
The video recordings will provide authorities the ability to identify visitors and inmates. Also, the visits could be conducted keeping prisoners in the pods at the jail rather than in open spaces where they may come in contact with other prisoners with whom they have a conflict. Gutierrez used rival gang members as an example.
"Right now, we segregate inmates by gang members," he said. However, because the inmates are removed from their pods, they have the ability to pass notes as they are moved to the visiting area.
With the phone system upgrade, Gutierrez is also pleased there will be the capability to set visits on a timer and corrections officers will not have to intervene. This is a plus, he said, because some prisoners become confrontational with the officers when an attempt to end visits is made.
Troubleshooting the upgraded system, too, will be better. He said the system can be accessed via the internet and maintenance will not require a visit from a technician every time there is an issue.
Also, Gutierrez told the Sunnyside City Council that other agencies like the FBI or ATF will have easier access to recordings. He said the current system requires Sunnyside officer time. The officer must pour through recordings to fill requests made by outside agencies. The new system contains a feature that allows an outside agency to access the recordings from their agency office.
Councilman Mike Farmer said, "It's impressive."
Councilwoman Theresa Hancock agreed. She asked if the council would need to adopt a policy determining guidelines for which inmates could be brought out of the jail for court appearances.
Radder said that would not be necessary because judges decide which inmates must be present in the courtroom.
Gutierrez said the majority of arraignments do not require the inmate's presence, but trials do. He said prisoners have to be seen at a trial without restraints and other attire associated with incarceration.
Radder said the new system, he believes, will be a "carrot" for the prisoners because the inmates value visitation time.