ROBINSON, Ill. (WTHI) - 24 tablets can now be found throughout the Crawford County Jail for inmate use. Inmates can rent the devices for $5 for a 24-hour period.
News 10 spoke with Crawford County Sheriff William Rutan. He says tablet use is paid for through the inmate’s commissary account. He says there’s no standard internet access, but they can purchase to have access to email capabilities.
The Sheriff says the tablets were provided as a service through the commissary company the jail uses for all the other commissary items. Rutan says this means there's no cost to taxpayers. The Sheriff says it's actually saving the jail money. Rutan says, "It gives them access to the law books, the law library that they are by law required to have access to. This saves us from spending almost $300 every couple of years when these law books are published."
Grievance forms, medical requests, and other communication with jail staff can be made through the tablets. Rutan says this also lowers the cost of office supplies. In addition, all emails, whether incoming or outgoing, are monitored by jail staff.
Rutan explains that each inmate that doesn’t pay for access to the tablet has 15 minutes every three hours to do research on the items they need to look up. He says Prison Rape Elimination Act Information plays on each tablet as soon as it is logged onto by an inmate.
The Sheriff says inmates do have the option to purchase basic games or books to occupy their time. Money collected from tablet use goes to the commissary company. As for other commissary items inmates purchase, a percentage of that goes back to the jail to purchase items needed by the jail whether it’s mattresses or uniforms, etc.
Rutan says tablet use has been in effect for about a week now. He says there have not been any issues with misuse of the tablets.
One of the highly debated items up for purchase in the commissary for inmates is e-cigarettes. They've been allowed since 2014. But, jail officials say they actually serve a great benefit by reducing violence behind bars, ultimately, keeping jail officers safe.
Rutan says, "The reduced stress and the reduced violent behavior because of not having that crutch, to say, is really improved life here."
Rutan says there were usually three or four physical altercations every week in the past, but since e-cigs were implemented in 2014, fight numbers started dropping immediately. The Sheriff adds that e-cigs are paid for by the commissary account, which is funded by family members or friends.
Rutan says the inmates also have access to basic cable television. He says there’s one TV for every two people, so they have to agree on what to watch. He says that’s a free service provided to the jail because of the phone service they have. The cost for the TV’s and control boxes was paid for in the past by the commissary account, not the county's budget.
Jail Administrator Fred Chinn says these items they're making available for purchase to inmates have become tools for jail officers.
Chinn says, "I talked to a lot of facilities back before I started the tablets, the tvs and stuff like that. A lot of agencies are going to that, because the more you give the inmate, the more you can take away when they act up through discipline."
While it may sound a little plush for a jail, Sheriff Rutan says it's important to remember these inmates are innocent until proven guilty.
He says, "We have several things that we have to provide to them and this amenities that they're getting are basic. Anything else that they're getting they're paying for. Their freedom is being held from them. They don't have the freedom to walk in and out."