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GOP controlled panel opposes free video visitation for McLean County Jail inmates

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JUSTICE COMMITTEE PIC 1

BLOOMINGTON (WEEK) - A proposal died in committee Tuesday to waive video visitation charges for McLean County Jail inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Video conferencing is the only way for inmates to see family and friends because in-person jail visitation has not been allowed since mid-March.

The Bloomington-Normal chapter of Black Lives Matter staged a car caravan outside the jail Friday calling for elimination of the video visitation fees, and release inmates who can't afford to post bond so they're less susceptible to contracting the virus.

The issue was split among party lines on the county board's justice committee. Democrats George Gordon and Carlo Robustelli were in favor of at least studying the financial impact of waiving the fees.

However, the four Republican justice committee members disagreed.

Video visitation costs $7.50 per half hour, while phone calls 25 cents per minute. According to Gordon, the fees added a little more than $17,000 to the county government's general fund in January and almost $18,500 in February.

"I'm not comfortable with us being several months or several weeks down the road, and having profited off of this group of people who are just trying to call their loved ones or their family," Robustelli said.

The county government should hang onto the money collected from video conferences, committee Republicans said.

"If it's extra money, it's extra money. We're probably going to need it because I know revenue from sales tax is going to be down," said committee member George Wendt.

"Any loss of revenue is going to have be made up somewhere, and I suspect it will be made up by the taxpayers, and I wouldn't be in favor of that," said committee member Jim Soeldner.

"These folks are in jail. We didn't put them there. They put themselves there," said committee member Randall Martin.

"This is a luxury. We can't provide it right now, end of story as far as I'm concerned," Martin also said.

Earlier, McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage, also a Republican, said the local jail far exceeds state standards requiring the county to grant inmates only a weekly five minute phone call.

Howard Packowitz

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