Randolph County Sheriff, Art Moystner, has a goal to modernize the jail during his term as Sheriff. Recently he has taken his first steps in doing so.
On May 30, a new messaging service was made available to the county jail inmates and more so to their friends and families. Called an “Inmate Chirping Device”, this device allows for an inmate to rent a device similar to a cell phone but can only be used to text.
There is a monthly fee for the device and service. For $4 a month an inmate, in good standing, can rent the device and text people at a rate of 10¢ a text.
The funding for the device comes from an account set up through the service company by the inmate. When the inmate gets the device they may send out 5 free automated messages each day for the first three days of possession of the device. These messages will inform the recipient who the inmate is that chirped and where they are from. It will them direct them to a link to the inmates account and show them how they can put money into the inmate’s account to fund the messaging service. If there is no funding for the phone for a period of three days at any time then the device gets returned to the jail staff.
Once funding is secured, the inmate is free to use the device. Each message coming in or out can be no longer than 160 characters. If the message is larger than the message is split and charged accordingly. If an inbound text is not viewed it is not charged.
If the device needs to be charged, the inmate must return the device to the jail staff as they are the only ones allowed to charge the device. The devices are charged overnight and can hold a charge for 24 hours under moderate and heavy use.
If there is any tampering with the device or the software the inmate will lose the privilege to use it and be charged $200 per the usage agreement.
Currently there is no time period as to when the device can be used. Moystner stated, “As long as there are no problems from the inmates due to having the devices, the jail staff and myself have decided that there will be no limits on time of use at this time.” There is also no limit to the amount of texting that can be done in a day either. As long as the funding is there, the inmate can text as many times as they want.
The service seems to be very popular. The Randolph County Jail’s capacity sits at 108 inmates. Currently Moystner says the jail averages about 106 inmates at a time. There have been 60 devices issued and more on order to supply the remaining inmates that have ordered them. All inmates have to sign an agreement that makes them aware that each and every text sent and received can be reviewed by the jail staff at any time.
Here is the question asked by the public, why are they allowed to have this type of service? They are in jail to be disciplined aren’t they? Moystner has a great response to this question. “This device is working 2 fold for the citizens of Randolph County.” He explains the device and service costs $0 to the taxpayers or the jail at all. It is completely funded by the inmates. Also it allows for contact to be made and kept for friends and family members that are not able to visit the inmate due to travel and health reasons.
Secondly, the jail actually makes money off of the service. For every charge they inmate incurs on the chirping service the jail gets 20% of the fee. For example is there is an inmate that sends out 50 texts in a day the fee for this is $5 the jail would get $1 of that amount. Moystner says the company averages this number to be $10,000 a year for the jail. The funds received will be used for inmate related expenses such as bedding, uniforms, transport, etc.
This step is the first in a few that Moystner is implementing. There are several other technological upgrades he has in the works and those should be rolled out to the public sooner than later. One step he wants to take is to offer inmates the ability to get their GED or college credits while serving their sentence. Moystner says, “This will allow the inmate to enter back into society in a better position. Having a GED will allow them to possibly find employment easier and the college credit courses will help them start a path to a career possibly.” Moystner continues, “They are in jail and they are serving their sentence. I am only trying to help them enter back into society better than when they came to us.”