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Champaign County Jail telecom deal will offer two free daily calls to inmates

23 Nov 2023, Jail News, by

A new deal with Consolidated Telecom at Champaign County Jail will provide residents with two daily free phone calls.

Champaign County Jail telecom deal will offer two free daily calls to inmates - Inmate Lookup

The Champaign County Sheriff has chosen Consolidated Telecom, Inc. for phone and video services at the Champaign County Jail, allowing two free phone calls starting February 15, 2024.

For the past few months, local activists have been trying to persuade the county to enter into a deal with a company that would provide free phone calls from the jail. Samantha Carter, a board member for Champaign County, stated that families and inmates shouldn’t have to pay outrageous fees to be in contact.

The jail’s previous contract with Securus Technologies, which started in 2018 and was initially set to expire after three years, is still in effect at present.

Consolidated Telecom, Inc., operating in several states such as Montana and Idaho, received approval on Tuesday night at the Champaign County Board meeting. Sheriff Dustin Heuerman praised the company for meeting expectations by providing two daily free calls to the county or inmates, along with necessary safety and security features.

Inmates raised concerns about Securus’ previous contract, primarily focusing on the steep costs of phone calls and the company’s biometric data collection practices. The latter involved gathering voiceprints during jail calls. In response to inquiries about permitting this, Sheriff Heuerman explained in a September email that the jail employed voice print technology to verify callers’ identities using assigned PINs.

Heuerman justified the biometric data collection by emphasizing its use in investigations. This technology not only verified a caller’s identity but also allowed investigators to be alerted if there was a likelihood of an inmate using another inmate’s PIN. He provided an example where, in cases like violations of an Order of Protection, investigators could review the inmate’s call history to assess the situation while they were incarcerated.

Open records requests for documents about biometric data use were submitted by the Illinois Public Media and Invisible Institute, but the Sheriff’s Office declined, citing the non-existence of said documents and an undue burden. It remains unclear whether Consolidated Telecom will adopt similar biometric data practices.

While activists might appreciate the decision to use a smaller company, Wanda Bertram from the Prison Policy Initiative warned that Securus often acquires smaller competitors.

Champaign County Jail resident Sandra Ahten expressed excitement about the new company’s free calls but voiced concerns about surcharges, especially for those with limited funds. Ahten pledged to monitor surcharge issues while finding inspiration in the move to advocate change, believing it offers hope for making a difference in the jail communication system.