Reporting Mike Puccinelli
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Inmates at Cook County Jail are being charged up to $15 per call for local phone calls.
As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, the company that operates the jail’s phones and the county are both raking in huge profits because of it.
None of the money is being pumped back into the jail, or to inmate or victim services.
Inmates locked up inside Cook County jails maximum security wing are being charged to the max to make phone calls.
John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, said, “I believe they go from $7 to as high as $15 per phone call,” including local calls.
Each of the jail’s approximately 9,000 inmates must pay those prices each time they make a non-collect call.
Bot Securus – the private company that oversees the calling system at the jail – and the county are making millions off the plan, with the county alone hauling in more than $3 million a year.
“Right now the county is making an obscene profit off of phone calls made by inmates,” Maki said.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle agrees.
“We want all of our citizens, including those that are inmates in the jail, to be treated fairly; and this seems like an egregious example of unfair treatment,” she said.
Maki said it’s not only unfair, but unwise. He said he thinks it hurts public safety to gouge inmates over a simple phone call.
“Study after study have shown that, when inmates don’t have the ability to communicate with their loved ones, they come out worse. Rhey come out more likely to reoffend,” Maki said.
One woman, who didn’t want to reveal her identity, said she’s had to pay dearly in the past two weeks, just to speak with her husband who was locked up for driving on a suspended license.
She said it cost $60 for her husband to make six calls from the jail, even though some of the calls were dropped after one minute.
As a result, she’s tried to discourage her husband from calling from jail.
“It’s just too expensive,” she said.
Although the county is in a $500 million dollar budget hole, Preckwinkle said the county can do without the millions in profits from calls from the jail, especially since inmates are innocent until proven guilty.
“I don’t care how much money it is. Exploiting people isn’t a good idea, even when they’re inmates in your jail,” she said.
Officials said the high cost of the calls is partly explained by the need to record and save phone conversations at the jail for up to five years.
However, in Will County, a recent contract charges inmates $3 per call, and 18 cents a minute after the first minute.
Securus representatives did not return calls for comment on the charges for phone calls at Cook County Jail.