Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Phone card rip-off at MCSD Jail?

Yesterday I submitted a FOIA Request to the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department, and today I received the response. I have the highest regard for Jan Weech, who is the FOI Officer there. She always responds fully and promptly, and I appreciate her professionalism.

My request was about the $20.00 phone cards that are sold to inmates and detainees.

I call them a “rip-off”, but I’ll give you the details, and you decide.

When an inmate (or detainee (I presume detainees must use the same phone system for out-going calls)) wishes to place a call, he must first purchase a phone card for $20.00 from the jail's commissary.

When he places the call, the “system” (the McHenry County Jail inmates call through a contract with Inmate Callings Solutions, LLC (www.icsolutions.com)) is programmed to announce to the called party that the call is from a person in jail. To accept the call, the called party must press “5” on his phone. If he doesn’t wish to receive the call or talk to the person calling, all he has to do is hang up.

If the call is not accepted, the inmate/detainee is not charged for the call.

So far, so good.

Now what are the charges if the call is completed?

There are two charges. There is a Connect Fee and there is a Usage Fee.

If it’s a Local call (and “local” means very close by), the Connect Fee is $2.50, and there is no Usage Fee. Local probably means in Woodstock and maybe up to seven miles away. A 30-minute call to Woodstock will cost $2.50.

The next Call Type is Intra-LATA. The Connect Fee is $2.00, and the Usage Fee is $0.10/minute. Intra-LATA might mean the local Chicago calling area. A 30-minute call will cost $5.00 [($2.00 + 30x$.10)]

The next Call Type is Intra-State, meaning outside the LATA and within Illinois; not to Indiana or Wisconsin. The Connect Fee is $2.25, and the Usage Fee is $0.20/minute. You can see that a 30-minute call will cost the inmate $8.25 [$2.25 + (30x$.20)]

Sitting down?

The next Call Type is Inter-State, meaning outside of Illinois. The Connect Fee is $3.50, and the Usage Fee is $0.50/minute. Want to call someone in Indiana or Wisconsin (or California or New York)? A 30-minute call will cost the inmate $18.50 [$3.50 + (30x$.50)]

And now the "killer" call. Suppose the inmate wants to place an International call; perhaps to Mexico or England or China or anywhere outside the U.S.A. The Connect Fee is $3.00, and the Usage Fee is $1.00/minute. You can see that a 30-minute call will cost the inmate $33.00 [$3.00 + (30x$1.00)]

Is there a commission on phone card sales? You betcha. The commission is 50%. The County buys the cards at a 50% discount. A $20.00 phone card costs the County $10.00. The County pays $10.00 for the phone card and sells it to the inmate/detainee for $20.00.

All profits from the sale of phone cards go into the Inmate Profit Account. According to the FOIA Response, dated today, McHenry County and the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department do not receive any benefits from this program or from the Inmate Profit Account.

The Inmate Profit Account is used to purchase items for inmates such as: Law Library materials, phone cards (hmmmm), televisions, indigent supplies, games, library books, computers, monitors, printers, newspapers (365 days), inmate commissary supplies, exercise equipment and GED applications.

Now I’m starting to wonder what the Inmate Profit Account numbers look like; for example, just how much revenue hits the IPA from phone cards? And from the hiked-up prices on all the commissary items? Is there a huge balance in the IPA or is it kept to a minimum by regular expenditures for the above Purchase items?

OK, now you decide. Rip-off or not?


Toa said...

It seems that you've already made up your mind, Gus. Why bother asking the rheorical question? To make it seem like your "investigation" is going to be even handed? You couldn't just get the "rest of the story" and then lay it all out at once, could you? No, that might not generate any points for your side and, yes, there IS a Your Side. You are nothing but a shill for Seipler and his ilk.

While you're pondering (or is it pandering?) all these perceived ills, ask this: "How much did I spend on a interstate LD call the last time I stayed at a hotel where I used their system instead of a toll-free number or a calling card I brought with me?"

Have you ever done that? Maybe you should try it. I would be willing to bet you'd find the rates comparable, actually, I KNOW you'd find them to be so. You'll also find that the hotels are not kicking back ANY percentage of that revenue to the people who patronize them. Keep it up, you'll find out in November how much the voters in McHenry County want to pay in additional taxes to provide "all the comforts of home" to the inmates of the county jail.

What next? are you going to write a big expose on where the sheriff's K-9's take a dump in the middle of their shift and try to get the EPA cite the sheriff's department for illegal dumping?

Gus said...

So, Toa, I take it that you think it's not rip-off.

The last time I got stuck with a big phone bill at a hotel was in 1989. I squawked and they cut it in half, admitting they had received many complaints.

Inmates and detainees don't have a choice. They can't use their own phone cards, Calling Cards or cell phones.

Thanks for the idea about checking where the K-9's take a dump. Do they deputies clean up after them?

Mike said...

If you're going to ask the question "Rip off or not?" using partial information you obtained through a FOIA request (and, damn, you REALLY do get good service with a one day turnaround that is truly unbelievable), why not turn around and ask for those figures, publish them here and then let us decide instead of trying to suggest that there may be something inappropriate going on? I think I know the answer to that one as well as my question about the guy in the jail who's been there "on hold" for six months. Your response - or lack thereof - will give us all the answer to those questions. As in a "Few Good Men," you can't handle the truth!

Gus said...

Mike, your friends in high places will love it when I file a FOIA Request to inspect a year's worth of records.

I'll tell them that you suggested I take a good look.