The ways that county jail inmates in Wisconsin are allowed to communicate with people outside of jail are being examined.
The state legislature could vote on a plan to stop jails from charging fees such as $1 a minute for phone calls.
La Crosse County Sheriff Jeff Wolf said Monday on La Crosse Talk with Mike Hayes that communication isn’t a problem in the local facility.
He says e-messaging has become a preferred way for prisoners to contact family and others.
“For the price of a stamp, those that are in custody can contact their loved ones, send letters back and forth instantaneously, seven days a week, holidays and weekends, unlike the post office,” Wolf said.
A stamp currently cost $.58. According to the La Crosse County Sherriff’s Office the is the cost for e-messages:
- 50-cents to send a message
- 50-cents to attach a photo (in addition to the message fee)
- 50-cents to add a reply stamp for an inmate to communicate back (in addition to the message fee)
Phone calls at the county jail can be made by the following ways:
- An inmate can call collect (most expensive)
- Inmates may purchase phone call minutes from their commissary account to add to their inmate debit account. Phone calls made through this method are charged to the inmate, not to the called party.
- Friends and family members with Securus accounts may place money on their personal Securus accounts to allow inmates call their phone number directly.
The last option doesn’t clearly state a price, but one testimony on the website reads, “$5 for 20 (minutes) everyday if you want.”
A report from the Prison Policy Initiative found that some Wisconsin counties charge over $14 for a 15-minute phone call.
The new bill would cap jail call charges to the same rates that national prepaid wireless telephone providers charge, following complaints of overcharging inmates in some counties.
Wolf added that the average stay for a jail inmate is around 10 days, which makes standard mail impractical most of the time, because a prisoner could be out before getting a response to a letter sent from the jail.
Wolf said the county has tried to discourage traditional mail, partly because of the chance that it could be used to smuggle drugs.
He noted that paper items sent in the mail “could be laced with some type to drug, whether it be fentanyl or heroin or methamphetamine,” and that could put the health of jail employees at risk.
Other items available to inmates include:
Items Available to Purchase in the Jail:
- Haircuts $15
- Beard trim $5
- Calling card $10.55
- Daily Newspaper $0.75 Mon.-Sat. $2 Sunday
- Commissary $40 (3 times per week) + unlimited hygiene items
- Fresh favorites $6.99 (Sunday’s only)
- Nurse call $3
- Doctor call $5
- RX co pay $5
- Copies $0.25