Sheriff Tom Dart calls for review of jail phone rates

Says the phone system should not be means to 'stick people up.'

April 3, 2012

(AP)
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says the county should not be profiting from inflated rates charged for jail inmates to make phone calls. Dart runs the jail but says, he was unaware of the profit-making deal the county struck with Securus Technologies, the facility's phone service provider, until WBEZ started reporting on the contract.

“Do I have time to go through all the contracts that they [county commissioners] give out that deal with the jail?" he said. "No. Once it meets my requirements of what I need, I then don't go through and say, 'OK, they picked so and so.' I don't know who these vendors are — I really don't — and I don't care to know who they are."

Dart says Securus provides good service because they record inmates' phone calls. Dart says the recordings prevent several attempted murders for hire every, but he says he didn’t know the county makes 57 and a half percent of all the revenue generated by the high-priced calls. The calls typically cost about $7.00 for 15 minutes.

“The phone system should not be a way of trying to stick people up," Dart said. "And just because you're behind bars we're going to really stick it to you so that, we know that's your only lifeline out there and we're gonna really rachet it up. No, they shouldn't do that.”

Dart says it’s important to remember that jail inmates are pretrial detainees; they have not been convicted. “They should have the ability to talk to people, especially their family members, to stay in touch with them. Absolutely they should, and if there's a system that's set up that's preventing that, that's not helpful," he said. "I mean I've been spending so much time working on these bridges back to the community, if we're artificially cutting off their connections to their family, it's really sort of shooting me in the foot. It doesn't help, I'll tell you that much.”

Dart says he doesn’t remember hearing a public debate about whether the county should profit from inmate phone calls.