BOCC aims for free jail calls with uncertain route 

Chair Anna Prizzia made the final motion to move the county jail toward free phone calls.
Chair Anna Prizzia spoke on Tuesday about tourism funds.
File photo by Seth Johnson

After a delayed meeting in March, three motions with additional modifications, multiple presentations, a passing of the gavel and a five-hour meeting, Alachua County voted 4-1 on Thursday to make phone calls at the jail free for all inmates and terminate its contract with the phone provider.  

The details of how the current contract will allow for free calls and exactly when the calls would become free remained unclear at the meeting, along with the exact financial impact for this fiscal year.  

Courtesy of Alachua County Charles Chestnut

Commission Chuck Chestnut, who seconded an earlier motion that also aimed for free calls, dissented on the final vote. He explained after that he likes numbers to drive his decisions, and he prefers to work gradually toward a goal than all at once and have to backpedal.  

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“I thought we would do it gradually on a basis to see how it works first, and in the meantime, we go through our budget process for next year to make sure that we have the funding to do it,” Chestnut said. “So, that’s the reason I voted no because I don’t think we’re doing the due diligence to really make this happen or to be sustainable.”   

Chair Anna Prizzia made the motion which directs staff to immediately work towards making calls free, whether by paying the phone contractor, Securus, or reimbursing the inmates. Paying for the calls serves at a temporary patch to allow free calls as the commission continues on the second part of the motion: to terminate its contract with Securus in order to issue a new request to vendors for free calls.  

County Manager Michele Lieberman said the county will need to contact Securus to make the calls free. She said the timeline depends on the company and what steps they need to take. The process might also involve amendments to the contract already in place that sets the current rate of 21 cents per minute.  

Prizzia and Commissioner Ken Cornell, who seconded the motion, said they anticipate the funds for the remainder of this fiscal year will come from extra funds sent back to the commission by Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr. Those extra funds came from vacancies within the department.  

At the start of the meeting, county staff presented four options to the commission:  

Option 1: 1 free 15-minute call per day per inmate.  

  • $580,000 annual cost 

Options 2: 5 free 15-minute calls per week per inmate. 

  • $375,000 annual cost 

Option 3: 2 free 15-minute calls per week per inmate. 

  • $75,000 annual cost 

Options 4: Unlimited 15-minute calls.  

  • $1.3 million cost 
Ken Cornell
Courtesy of Alachua County Ken Cornell

Currently, a call costs 21 cents per minute—the maximum allowed under federal law. Securus receives 12 of those cents while the county receives the remaining 9 cents per minute. The county makes an estimated $375,000 per year on those calls.  

Deputy County Manager Carl Smart said a move toward free calls tends to increase the number of calls made. He said Miami-Dade County saw a 35% increase and Watson said his office may need to make adjustments with an increase in inmate calls.  

Staff with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) said they could already use more phones for the estimated 800 persons at the prison—though the number fluctuates.  

Watson said at the start of his time that the ACSO doesn’t oppose free calls. He said that decision rests with the BOCC and his team would work with the county staff to implement the changes.  

However, he said that free calls would change logistics. Staff from the sheriff’s office discussed internal shifts needed to accommodate each option. Overall, the ACSO said the jail could accommodate one free call every two weeks while keeping all other operations the same, according to a presentation. Paid calls would still be available as normal.  

Along with more phones, Watson said the jail would need more space to put them, especially if call volume rises. The office would also need more personnel per shift than they currently have.  

Watson also asked that the contract with Securus be placed under the ACSO. He said the office already handles the healthcare and food contracts in accordance with the BOCC policy.  

Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr.
Courtesy of Alachua County Clovis Watson Jr.

The commission asked if a switch to tablets could allow more calls, along with texting options, while not requiring more space. Watson said it was a possibility moving forward. 

Commissioner Mary Alford said ACSO and BOCC staff used worst-case scenarios and assumptions, but the county wouldn’t know the true financial or operational cost until free calls were implemented. She motioned for a 90-day trial of free calls.  

“We’re looking at worst-case scenarios. We’re looking at numbers that are being assumed,” Alford said. “We don’t really have the information of what’s going to happen. If it turns into a fiasco, we can walk it back. We can stop that.”    

She also asked that the county revisit its contract with Securus in order to have paid calls charged per line instead of per minute and explore the options of bringing tablets into the jail.

Chestnut seconded the motions, but then, Cornell made a substitute motion.  

Cornell’s motion shifted the contract to the sheriff and directed Watson to move to unlimited free calls permanently, returning to the commission as he encounters barriers.  

After nearly three hours of presentations and BOCC discussion, public commenters lined up at two podiums and spoke in support of unlimited free calls. Many commenters also blasted the sheriff’s office, presentations and the fact that inmates must pay in the first place.  

Following the public comment, Prizzia passed the gavel to Alford in order to make her own substitute motion. At that time, Cornell also removed his own substitute motion.  

Prizzia made the motion which passed, and Watson called the motion fair, saying he would work with Lieberman to put it in place. Prizzia also asked that staff update the commission at its regular meeting on Tuesday as to the progress with Securus to make calls free.  

A second item and motion directed the county manager and sheriff to lower or eliminate all fees associated with the jail as possible.   

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Sorry, why do taxpayers need to pay for criminals to call anyone? Want to call someone, stay out if jail and do it on your own dime!

This is misuse of taxpayer provided funds, but that is nothing new to the AC BOCC!


Mean while I pay for my phone service and drive on potholed roads. This is another example of those who kick and scream getting what they want just to shut them up. It is disgusting! Vote everyone of these people out of office. They all suck at their job.