Tassie seeks new prison telephone system

The Tasmanian Department of Justice has put out a request for tender for a new telecommunication system for prison inmates.

The Tasmanian Department of Justice has put out a request for tender for a new telecommunication system for prison inmates.


(Max security image by Pierre LaScott, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Prisoners in Tasmania currently have access to a telephone system called Arunta. The tender suggests systems such as Telstra's Customnet, Spectrum or a public switched telephone network, but could also include varying distribution types such as copper, unshielded twisted pair or voice over internet protocol.

A total of 30 phones will be required across the six prison facilities in Tasmania to service approximately 500 inmates.

The department estimated that prisoners in Tasmania made around $400,000 (excluding GST) worth of phone calls in the last financial year.

In the Arunta system, prisoners are given an ID number to use to make calls with the cost coming out of their prison wages. The tender states that the new system must restrict access through a PIN or a username and password.

The new system must allow prisoners to nominate up to 15 personal phone numbers that they can call, which are authorised by prison staff, and must not allow inmates to call unauthorised numbers or use call forwarding to reach numbers other than those approved.

The system must continue to allow all calls to be recorded and allow for prison staff to listen in on the calls in real time. This is often not only for staff looking for illegal activity occurring in the prison but also to ensure the well-being of prisoners.

A 2001 inquiry into deaths in custody in Tasmania (PDF) highlighted the high value of the telephone systems in recording and monitoring calls made by prisoners in suicide prevention. In 1999 the mother of one prisoner did not report the suicidal thoughts her imprisoned son had expressed in a phone call because she assumed the staff monitoring the call through the Arunta telephone system would pick it up. The prison staff were not listening at the time and consequently her son hanged himself in his cell.

However, audio tapes of calls made by the prisoner were able to be provided to the inquest into deaths in custody in 2001 through the Arunta telephone system. The inquest report declared that the system was a "valuable security and welfare tool" that had not been used adequately in that instance.

Submissions for the tender can be made until 27 July and the new system must be installed by September 2010 with the contract running until 2015.