SandStar Brings Telemarketing Inhouse After Canceling Prison Program

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SandStar Family Entertainment Inc., Salt Lake City, has taken its telemarketing operations back inhouse after the prison-based telemarketing program it was using was discontinued.

A SandStar spokeswoman said this week that the company, which edits videos to remove scenes of violence and sexuality to make them suitable for family viewing, had operated its own telemarketing programs after it began outsourcing the operation to Utah Correctional Industries several years ago.

UCI said last week that it would disband the telemarketing program following complaints that inmates wrote letters to teen-age girls whose names and addresses they had obtained through the telemarketing program.

In a statement, SandStar said it began using the UCI program "only after careful study, due diligence and the implementation of strict training, management, supervision, rules, policies, procedures, protocols and systems to assure that the involvement would be congruent with SandStar's long-held and actively promoted family-friendly goals and, most importantly, could be done safely and professionally."

Company executives did not return phone calls seeking further comment.

The inmates were not given phone numbers or addresses of consumers and were instructed not to ask for them, but consumers sometimes gave the information anyway, said Jack Ford, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Corrections. The computerized dialing system displayed only the consumers' names, he said, and inmates had to transfer calls to a noninmate worker to complete any purchase transactions. Their calls also were monitored randomly.

The prison call center, which also handles inbound calls for two Utah state agencies, had received few complaints in its 12 years of existence, Ford said. The state agency programs will be discontinued when their contracts run out in a few months, he said. In the meantime, call monitoring has been stepped up.

Tracie Cayford, a spokeswoman for one of the agencies, the Utah Travel Council, said she was unaware of any problems the agency had ever had with the program, in which inmates answer calls to toll-free numbers from consumers seeking travel information.

"This was fairly inexpensive to operate, and any other solution will probably end up costing the taxpayer more money," she said.

She added that the agency had received several compliments from callers "telling us what a great job those guys are doing out there."

The inmates, who receive a small amount of compensation for the work, were not required to identify themselves as being incarcerated.

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