Rutherford Co. sheriff terminates unbid contract providing inmat - WSMV News 4

Rutherford Co. sheriff terminates unbid contract providing inmates tablets

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Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold

The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office has discontinued a controversial contract that provided inmates with tablets.

The contract with Telmate was terminated by the county after a seven-month trial period.

The Channel 4 I-Team previously reported about the contract, which was approved by the sheriff and never went through the competitive bid process or was approved by the Rutherford County Commission.

Inmates at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center were able to use the tablets to speak to or write emails to their families while behind bars.

A woman, who asked not to be identified, said she has been sending text messages to her son in jail. He reads them on the Telmate tablet, but it’s not free.

“I pay to send and he pays to read it,” the woman said. “It’s crazy.”

The woman said she pays 25 cents a text. Her son pays by the minute to use the tablet.

Telmate’s contract gave them the exclusive right to place tablets in the jail and to charge inmates whatever they want. Under the agreement, the sheriff’s office keeps 25 percent of the income after the anniversary of the pilot term.

County officials told Channel 4 that no money had been paid to the sheriff's office by Telmate.

After the I-Team’s report in April, the sheriff terminated Telmate’s contract effective June 9. Families learned this week the tablets were gone.

Instead of receiving a refund of money families paid in advance, Telmate offered them phone minutes on calling cards.

“I said, ‘I don’t need a calling card. I have a cell phone. Why would I need a calling card?’” the woman said. “’Well, it’s the only way we do it.’”

“The first I heard of that was a few minutes ago,” said Maj. Tommy Thompson, who is in charge of the jail.

Telmate changed its policy after the I-Team asked about it.

“They’re going to refund the money in the same manner it was submitted,” Thompson said.

Tablets may be back at the jail at some point in the future, but as the Sheriff Robert Arnold said in his cancellation letter to Telmate, next time companies will have to go through the bid process.

The jail administrator said he thought the pilot program worked well. He said he’d like to have the tablets back from Telmate or someone else.

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