Oklahoma prison inmates will get two free five-minute phone calls each week starting Wednesday, March 18, the Department of Corrections announced.

The department canceled all visits by family and volunteers last week to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading inside its facilities.

Corrections officials reached an agreement with the telecommunications company GTL, which provides inmate telephone service inside state facilities, to allow the free phone calls through April 14.

Inmates normally pay 20 cents per minute, or $1 for a 5-minute call. They also are charged a per-call fee ranging from $1.19 to $4.75 depending on the method of payment.

The free calls will help ensure inmates’ important connections with loved ones during the ban on in-person visits, officials said. Additional ways to provide communication between inmates and their families are being explored. Corrections experts have said that it is important for incarcerated people to have easy, cheap access to calls to maintain contact with family others and friends; this increases chances they will have support to rebuild their lives after being released. Critics have questioned the outsourcing of prison phone service to private companies, saying the fees are high and are a burden to family members, who often bear the costs.

The public can call (405) 425-2556 for updates on facility access, visitation, and other news related to COVID-19. 

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