The Public Square

Sandra Ahten of Urbana on the high phone rates charged county jail inmates’ families and what you ca

Sandra Ahten of Urbana on the high phone rates charged county jail inmates' families and what you can do about it.

My name is Sandra Ahten. I am an artist, personal coach, and independent journalist. I have been investigating, understanding, and writing about issues of criminal justice for seven years. I reside in Urbana with my husband Kevin Elliott.

Champaign County makes a handsome profit off of phone calls generated by inmates from the county jail. Here's how it works. Inmates are forced to make collect calls, even when calling locally. The calls are about 45 percent more than even home to home collect calls. Hence families who accept the call is are forced to pay more than $6 for fifteen minutes.

This exorbitant rate is a County contract with Evercom Systems of Irving Texas. As a nice thank-you for accepting the contract - the contract with the highest phone rates of all three bidding companies -- the county received a $10,000 signing bonus and each month receives $14,000 kickback. The county would like to call this kickback: compensation. But compensated for what? The county provides no service or equipment -- only a captive market.

In light of the three jail suicides in six month, Sheriff Walsh suggested that he understood the mental health need for communication between inmates and their support system. This policy defies that: Clergy can't accept calls. Children can't talk to their parents. Families lose their phones.

Many in the county jail are there because they are poor: they can not meet their bond. 57% have not even been found guilty but are awaiting their hearing.

The contract is being considered at the county board meeting on Thursday, February 24 at 7pm at Brookens Administration Building. The county board needs to be sent a message. Stop this unfair practice. Negotiate a contract that provides the least expensive rates for calls not a contract that provides the biggest kickback. Citizens do not want you to fund our general budget with this unfair tax on the poorest inmate's families. The next county board meeting is Thursday Feb. 24. The time for public input is at 7pm. My phone number, if you would like to help organize or want more information is 217-367-6345. I'm Sandra Ahten.