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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soros Wants Telephones in Prisons

ST. PETERSBURG — An inmate has the right to make four telephone calls a year, and each call can last up to 15 minutes.

But with a widespread lack of payphones, even that lawful right — no matter how limited it may appear — cannot be fulfilled in most of the country's 700 prisons and 192 pre-trial detention centers.

Enter George Soros. His charity organization, the Open Society Institute, is spearheading a campaign to install payphones in all prisons at an estimated cost of $1 million.

The National Payphone Network, which is majority owned by St. Petersburg Payphones and Svyazinvest, kicked off a pilot Payphones in Prisons program in April and has already installed three phones — one at each of the two prisons in Chov, the Komi republic, and another at prison colony No. 3 in Fornosovo in the Leningrad region.

However, Open Society Institute has yet to pick a company to install payphones nationwide. Twelve companies are in the bidding, and a winner is expected to be announced this week, according to a Soros spokeswoman in Moscow.

"This is a social project, not a commercial one, so we're not expecting to reap any great profits," Vladimir Korsakov, head of sales at National Payphone Network, said Monday. "We don't know yet if the project will get the fund's support, but we've already started installation and plan to install payphones in at least 10 to 15 prisons."

"If we don't receive support from the Soros fund, then we'll look for another charitable organization to help us continue," he said.

Vladimir Kalinichenko, spokesman for the St. Petersburg and Leningrad region corrections department, said the calls must be paid for by the inmates but phone privileges could be awarded for good behavior.

"If a prisoner really shows that he has made steps toward his rehabilitation, then we can give him the right to make extra calls," he said.

"But, on the other hand, this is not a children's summer camp and some of the prisoners also break the rules," he added. "In these cases we can also take away their phone privileges as an extra punishment."

Since inmates are not allowed to have cash, they can pay for calls with credits received from working in prison, he said.

The web site reported that prisoners made more than 300 long distance calls in the first week after the payphone was installed at prison colony No. 3.