Inmates in the county detention center who have problems reading and writing soon may learn those skills from computers paid for through money made off the inmates' telephone calls.
Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. and American Telephone & Telegraph Co., which provide detention center phone service for the inmates, have agreed to increase to 10 percent the county's commission on phone calls made by inmates.
The commission was 5 percent, which generated about $10,000 annually, said Maj. Dale Zepp, assistant warden.
Inmates pay an 85-cent charge on any call made to family or friends, even a local one, from the detention center. A party on the other end must accept the call and the added charges.
Calls to legal counsel are free.
The 5 percent commission has been used to pay for an education program for the inmates operated in conjunction with Harford Community College.
The money raised through the doubling of the commission will be used to buy two or three personal computers and software that will be used to teach inmates reading and writing, Zepp said.
No date has been set for the start of the computer classes.
"Most of the detention-center inmates have a fifth- or sixth-grade average reading level," Zepp said. "That's why we're interested in improving their literacy skills.
"We plan to spend about $3,600 on the personal computers, and the college is looking into software packages," he said.
The County Council passed a bill two weeks ago authorizing the detention center to draw the commission windfall from the county's pay-as-you-go capital.