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Calling collect: costs cut for county jail inmates phoning home

Updated: December 19, 2012 1:17AM

Families of Cook County jail inmates will no longer be charged exorbitant fees when their incarcerated loved ones make collect calls home.

The cost of a 15-minute collect phone call will be cut in half under an amended contract with Securus Technologies approved by the Cook County Board Tuesday. The allowed duration of a collect call will be extended to 30 minutes and additional surcharges and fees will be eliminated.

Under the current rate strucutre, a 15-minute phone converastion can cost upwards of $10.

“Prices have been cut in half and calls will be twice as long,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement. “Cook County will no longer overcharge families to connect with their loved ones who are in our custody.”

Inmates will still be allowed to make a free phone call when they are booked and released, under the new plan that will be implemented in the coming weeks.

The previous contract with the company, which brought in about $3.8 million in revenue to the county’s general fund, was negotiated under the administration of former Board President Todd Stroger, according to officials.

The new contract, which was extended until December 2014, will still bring in about $3.3 million in revenue and will not reduce the level of service provided to inmates and the county, Preckwinkle spokeswoman Kristen Mack said.

The company, Mack said, merely agreed to lower their rates.

“Securus has made a pledge to no hidden fees,” Cook County spokeswoman Lydia Murray said in a statement. “The County, however, still intends to audit the contract to ensure that all of the calls are accounted for and appropriately charged.”

Aside from visitation hours, collect calls are the primary means incarcerated inmates have to stay in touch with people on the outside.

All phone calls, with the exception of discussions between an inmate and their lawyer, are recorded, said Frank Bilecki, a spokesman for Sheriff Tom Dart.

Bilecki said extending the duration of collect phone calls, which authorities sometimes review to help criminal investigations, may prove to be good for law enforcement.

“In this new deal the inmates are actually allowed to talk longer, so we might be able to gather even more useful information,” Bilecki said

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