Overcharging inmates for phone calls bad for county

April 3, 2012

WBEZ/Robert Wildeboer
Cook County makes $4 million a year by charging inmates in the jail inflated phone rates to call their families.

A prison watchdog group in Chicago says Cook County isn't doing itself any favors by charging inflated phone rates to inmates in the jail. Inmates pay about $7 for 15-minute phone calls. The calls are so expensive because Cook County government inflates the rates and makes about $4 million a year from the contract for the phone service, provided by Securus Technologies.

John Maki with the John Howard Association says the county shouldn't be putting up barriers for inmates trying to stay connected to their families.

"Study after study show that communication is critical for when an inmate gets out of prison," says Maki. "It actually helps decrease recidivism and it's really in our interests to make sure that happens."

Maki says criminal justice is a vital public service and should not be treated as a business. "When you inject motives of profit into the administration of justice, you're going to distort it absolutely."

The county board is reviewing the contract and several commissioners agree that the county should not be making money from it.