COVID-19 pandemic could have financial impact on prisoners, families

Digital Originals

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain not only on finances but personal relationships.

Those incarcerated are having an even tougher go of things as most jails have eliminated in-person visits due to the pandemic.

In the Peoria County Jail, inmates can purchase phone time using their personal inmate accounts. Friends and family may also contribute to the account, according to the jail’s website.

A 2018 phone rates survey by Prison Policy Initiative shows the average cost per phone call in the Peoria County Jail is 21 cents for the first minute and 21 cents for each additional minute or $3.15 for a 15-minute phone call.

Although these prices may be manageable, they are not consistent across the board. With in-person visits temporarily suspended in most jails, inmates and families are having to rely on more expensive video-chat options in order to connect.

Across the river, the Woodford County Jail has suspended in-person visits due to the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, inmates were able to communicate with visitors face-to-face twice a week, free of charge, according to Jail Superintendent Dennis Wertz.

“We have yet to resume those visits … but hope to in the near future,” he said in an email.

Instead, inmates have in-pod kiosks where visiting can be done through video chat. 

“It can be done remotely where the visitor can be at home, work or wherever, basically like Face Time,” he said.

In the McLean County Jail, Sheriff Jon Sandage said inmates also have access to video visitation. The cost for a 30-minute visit is approximately $7.50. 

Wertz said video visits have been common practice in the Woodford County Jail since 2016 and come at a cost of roughly $6 per 20-minute visit. 

Aside from video chat, inmates have access to phones through Securus Technologies, a prison communications firm.

Wertz said the company has provided the jail with free visit codes on three separate occasions. This has allowed the Woodford County Jail to provide each inmate with two free visits each time.

Each phone call comes with a $3.85 connection fee, which Securus has removed, making the calls more economical for inmates and their loved ones, he said. The rate for in-state calls is 35 cents per minute and 21 cents per minute for out-of-state calls.

“Inmates have figured out how to circumvent the higher in state prices by having their friends and  family get an out-of-state phone number through Google and there is nothing that us or Securus can do about that. So the majority of inmates are able to take advantage of the 21 cents per minute rate,” he said.

Inmates in the McLean County Jail are also able to make calls at a cost of 21 cents a minute, Sandage said.

The Knox County Jail also uses Securus Technologies for video visitation. Jail Administrator Louis Glossip said the jail has only gone virtual since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and believes the cost is approximately $10 for a 20-minute video visit and phone calls are 25 cents a minute.

WMBD’s Digital Team plans to continue its coverage of this topic in an additional segment. Those interested can contact us at news@wmbd.com.

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