Missouri, Kansas inmates' TIPS Hotline calls blocked

Thursday, June 4, 2009 | 12:07 p.m. CDT; updated 12:42 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 4, 2009

KANSAS CITY — Inmates from more than 21 Missouri prisons and one federal holding facility in Kansas have not been able to call the Kansas City TIPS Hotline for nearly a year, apparently without the knowledge of prison officials or the hot line managers.

TIPS Hotline manager Kevin Boehm said he was working to resolve the problem, which he learned about from The Kansas City Star.

The Missouri problem apparently stems from after-hours TIPS Hotline call takers blocking a detention facility call this past July. Calls from Corrections Corporation of America Leavenworth, a federal pre-trial holding facility, were blocked by the phone provider without the knowledge of prison officials.

"That is not our policy, not at all," said Boehm, a detective with Kansas City Police Department assigned to the hot line five months ago.

This past July, a person taking after-hours calls apparently chose to block a call and may have may have inadvertently blocked all calls from Missouri's 30,000 inmates, Boehm said.

At the time, after-hours calls were routed to area police departments. They are now handled by a private company in Texas that e-mails information from the calls to Kansas City.

Connie Parish, a prison spokeswoman at CCA Leavenworth, said that when officials checked their phone system, at The Star's request, they were surprised to discover the phone service provider had blocked all calls to the hot line.

She said CCA Leavenworth currently has no plans to unblock the inmates' calls to the hot line.

Boehm wouldn't say if he thought CCA Leavenworth calls should be blocked, but added, "We are happy to take those TIPS calls from any prison, and we certainly would not refuse such calls."

Matt Cahill, a deputy U.S. marshal in Kansas, said that the Marshal's Service, which contracts for cell space at CCA Leavenworth, does not prohibit inmates from calling the hot line.

Blocking the calls would stop prisoners from sending police on wild-goose chases, he said, but acknowledged inmates often have information that could solve some crimes.

The Missouri Department of Corrections also did not know that the TIPS number was blocked until The Star asked officials to check.

"That (TIPS Hotline) number was blocked by the receiving person on July 28 last year," said spokeswoman Jacqueline Lapine. "I don't know if they (the TIPS Hotline) realized it would be a permanent block."

Lapine said the state had no position on whether the number should remain blocked. "We always cooperate with law enforcement and have a long history of doing so," she added.

The state prison system has its own separate inmate hot line, Lapine said, but it's seldom used.

In Jackson County and in Kansas state prisons, inmates can contact the local TIPS Hotline, but the person who answers often has to accept a collect call that sometimes carries additional fees.

The TIPS Hotline promises callers will remain anonymous. But inmate calls may be monitored — except those to an attorney — so inmates would not always be anonymous, said Bill Miskell, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections.

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