Preckwinkle calling for end to $15 phone charges in Cook County Jail

March 14, 2012

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(WBEZ/Bill Healy)
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is calling on the jail to stop a phone service that charges inmates $15 for 15-minute calls. According to Preckwinkle's spokesman, the board president just learned about the $15 calls when WBEZ approached her office for comment last week.

Preckwinkle's office said the agreement for the $15 calls did not go through her office. She's recommending that the county discontinue what she calls a side deal which that Sheriff Tom Dart made with Securus Technologies, the company that has an exclusive contract to run the phone system in the jail.

Securus Technologies will not explain to WBEZ why those calls have to cost $15, or what that $15 pays for.

Preckwinkle and Dart have both been denying that they pushed for the revenue sharing contract with Securus. The contract charges the mostly poor inmates severely inflated phone rates and then the phone company pays 57 and a half percent, about $4 million a year, back to the county.

Preckwinkle says with a general funds deficit of $500 million going into 2011 the county decided to renew the deal.

Stopping the $15 calls would still leave most of the Securus contract intact and the county would continue to get most of its revenue, too.