3/23/2018 2:17:00 PM Inmate tablets provided through commissary account
Jail Administrator Fred Chinn examines one the 24 tablets that the Crawford County Jail has for inmates. The tablets are provided to the inmates from their commissary account, in which loved ones pay the jail for the inmates to use amenities while incarcerated. Earlier reports that suggested the tablets are paid through tax dollars were found inaccurate. (Blake Nash Photo)
Tablets and other accessible items for inmates at the Crawford County Jail are paid through an inmates account. That is what the Crawford County Sheriff's Office felt compelled to say last week after erroneous reports that tablets, internet access, cable TV and E-cigarettes are bought with tax money surfaced.
Jail Administrator Fred Chinn told the Daily News Friday that these items are purchased through the jail's inmates commissary account.
"We stress that these programs do not use tax dollars and are paid for by the inmates through their commissary account," Chinn said. "The decision to implement this into our facility was carefully decided after research and consultations with other corrections facilities where it is already in place."
For those unfamiliar, a jail commissary is a store within a correctional facility from which inmates can purchase products. Because of their sentence inmates are typically not allowed to possess cash. However, loved ones are able to provide money to the inmates by depositing money into their commissary account, provided by the facility. Through this inmates can purchase items to stay connected and adjust to life at the facility.
The county jail provides internet access through the tablets, which give inmates access to a law library, a requirement for the state. The library needs to be constantly updated to keep up with new statutes and court ruling for the inmates. As of today, the county jail has 24 tablets provided at no cost to the county. Inmates may purchase a 24-hour pass for $4.99 or a one hour pass for 99 cents.
"The pass gives the inmates access to some games, digital books and email that is monitored by the jail," Chinn said. "There is no outside access to the internet such as social media or Google searches."
Inmates are also allowed to utilize the tablets for the law library, to access information regarding the Prison Rape Elimination Act and other jail documents.
Sheriff Bill Rutan and Chinn said it also benefits the jail by limiting the amount of paper used for the inmates cases. The tablets also provide the Illinois Jail Standards as well as a digital copy of the Crawford County Jail and Inmate policy handbook. This eliminates the need to provide paper copies of the handbook to the inmates but also other paper forms and documents.
"This reduces cost of printing, paper and ink. For instance it is estimated that our annual paper copy of handbooks issued to inmates were between 45,000 and 50,000 pages," Chinn said.
The cable TV's in the jail's recreation room have also been purchased by profits from the commissary account. Programming was provided in an agreement with Mediacom at no extra cost.
E-cigarettes were first sold to inmates in 2014, after the jail became smoke free due to change in the state laws. This was also done through the commissary so it would be easier to control
"Profits for E-cigarettes were used for purchases at the facility for education, recreation and other purposes in the jail deemed beneficial to the inmates," Chinn said.
Jail workers say they feel that previous reports have implied that the inmates have a somewhat luxurious or accommodating atmosphere at local tax payers expense. However, the jail is small with a capacity of almost 50 beds, with up to four inmates per cell when full. This close environment can become stressful and lead to hostile situations. Giving inmates these amenities can help ease that tension.
"These can be used to reward good behavior as well as discipline by restricting access," Chinn said. "Treating the inmates humanely is best for all involved."