Over the one-and-a-half-month period that Cameron Crawford was incarcerated in the Tazewell County Justice Center, his father, Francis, spent nearly $200 to speak with his son on the telephone. Cameron Crawford is now serving seven years in the Statesville Correctional Facility in Joliet, where the telephone provider charges a much cheaper rate. Francis Crawford says that the rates charged for calls to and from prison are exorbitant and an unfair burden on families.

Over the one-and-a-half-month period that Cameron Crawford was incarcerated in the Tazewell County Justice Center, his father spent nearly $200 to speak with his son on the telephone.


“While he was there, I had to subscribe to Correctional Billing Services to talk to my son,” said Francis Crawford, Cameron’s father. “I paid $5.25 for the first minute and 89 cents a minute after that.


“The fees are exorbitant. Those costs shouldn’t be on the loved ones of the inmates to pay. We who pay these excessive charges in order to be able to receive calls from loved ones are being victimized and punished when we are innocent of the crimes of the inmates.”


Cameron Crawford is serving seven years in the Statesville Correctional Facility in Joliet for possession of cannabis over 5,000 grams. Since he arrived in Joliet in June, his father has paid only $2.05 for the first minute and 26 cents a minute after that for phone calls.


“If that facility can do it, so can Tazewell County,” Francis Crawford said. “There are other companies that can be used.”


Tazewell County Jail Superintendent Earl Helm said the jail contracts with Securus Technologies Inc., a national company that provides inmate phone systems.


The inmate phone system was first installed in 1990 at the old Tazewell County Jail on South Fourth Street. When using the jail phones, inmates must call outside parties collect.


The phones are located in the booking and holding area, as well as in housing units. They are turned on at 7 a.m. and off at 10 p.m.


Helm said the jail phone calls are expensive because of monitoring systems that must be in place; all inmate phone calls are monitored and recorded for security purposes. The phone records have been used as evidence in court cases in the past.


For instance, Gregory Dabbs, 41, of Creve Coeur, was found guilty July 16 by a jury in Tazewell County’s 10th Judicial Circuit Court of violating of an order of protection by making phone calls from the jail to a woman with an active order of protection against him.


According to jail records, Dabbs called the protected woman 226 times on one of her phones, 56 on another and six times on a third phone. He was sentenced to five years in prison.


Dabbs has filed suit against the county in federal court regarding the evidence provided by the jail that led to his conviction, Helm said.


The jail gets 48 percent of the money generated by the phone calls, Helm said, which brings in about $4,000 to $5,000 a month. The money raised from the phone calls and the commissary goes into the Inmate Welfare Fund, which pays for inmate supplies such as uniforms and shoes.


Crawford said the cost of supplies should be billed separately and not linked to phone calls to loved ones.


State standards regulate usage of phones in the jail, Helm said. Inmates must be allowed to make at least one phone call per day, the inmate must bear the expense of the call or call collect, and the inmate must be allowed at least five minutes per call.


Helm said Tazewell County does not limit the number of calls an inmate can make nor the length of the calls.


Charges for inmate calls are set by the provider, Helm said, and rates are based on the distance of the called number from the jail. He said the rates are standard for jails.


Local and in-state calls have a surcharge of $3.15 to start, then range from 24 to 35 cents for the first minute based on distance from the jail. Each additional minute is 31 cents, according to a cost chart provided by the jail.


The surcharge for out-of-state calls is $4.35, plus 89 cents per minute, the cost charts said.


Crawford said Correctional Billing Services, a subsidiary of Securus, has a history of poor business practices. When his son was transferred to Statesville, Crawford said, he requested a refund for the portion of a $200 credit that his son had not used. Crawford was told it would be four months before a check would be sent to him, he said, and he has not yet received it.


Crawford said the company does not accept responsibility for errors made on billing and that the jail needs to change its phone provider.


“The decision of which phone service to use rests solely with the jail administration, so it follows that this extortionate service by Correctional Billing Services is condoned and sanctioned by the jail,” Crawford said in an e-mail to the jail earlier this year. “I have just tried to add some funds ($100) to my correctionalbillingservices.com account to enable my son to call me and am incensed that the charge simply to add money from my MasterCard will be another $6.50 before any money is expended by my son. I am fully familiar with what online companies charge for this type of service, and it is nowhere near the amount that CBS has the temerity to charge.”


Correctional Billing Services responded to a request for comment with a stock form explaining how to use the service. No comment was provided.


Sharon Woods Harris can be reached at sharris@pekintimes.com.