McLean County sheriff bypasses the County Board to get tablets to inmates, for a fee
McLean County Jail inmates can use tablets again after Sheriff Jon Sandage reworked a contract that Democrats on the county board tried to stop.
Sandage authorized the agreement with IC Solutions after the county board delayed a vote in October and called on the sheriff to renegotiate the agreement. Sandage removed the tablets the following day.
Sandage said he consulted with McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp and the Illinois Sheriff’s Association before deciding he could bypass the board and approve the deal on his own.
“Most of the contracts I go through the county board on, I do so as a courtesy and they are not necessarily meant for county board approval, but just sheriff’s approval,” said Sandage, a Republican.
Sandage said he approved the contract before Thanksgiving, so inmates were able to get the tablets back before the holiday and could connect with loved ones.
Democrats on the board were opposed to the fees inmates pay for calls, texts and live stream entertainment. Educational materials are free to inmates, Sandage said. McLean County makes a commission on those fees in addition to the projected $200,000 the county gets from inmates' phone charges.
Democrat Sharon Chung serves on the county board’s justice committee. Chung said even if the sheriff has the prerogative to run the jail as he wishes, she’d like him to take a more collaborate approach with board members.
Chung said Sandage has stonewalled board members who have requested more information, which she said may be because Sandage doesn’t plan to seek re-election.
“Maybe this is just his way of saying he doesn’t really seem to care about what we think, or some of the things we are trying to see that we can change,” Chung said.
Sandage accused Democrats of turning the matter into a political issue.
“The Democrats thought inmates should get these luxuries at taxpayer expense and the Republicans thought the inmates should pay for it themselves,” Sandage said.
The county board’s nine Democrats accused Sandage of playing political games when he removed the tablets from the jail in October.
Sandage said the county plans to implement a new service that scans mail to inmates and delivers the correspondence to them on their tablet.
Sandage said the move is intended to prevent drugs from being mailed to inmates. He said that has happened at least twice at the jail.
“Whether it be Fentanyl, K-2 spice, things of that nature pose a danger not only to the inmates but to staff. This is a way to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Sandage, adding the MailGuard program through IC Solutions is not costing the county any additional money. It was included in the five-year contract the county approved in 2018.
Chung called the move to remove physical mail from inmates “excessive,” saying inmates have shared they want to be able to hold something that a loved one has sent them, rather than a digital copy.
“I’m not sure why he wants to punish everybody in the jail for the alleged actions of a couple bad actors,” Chung said.
Chung also said she objects to what she calls a culture of jail inmates being treated as “less than human,” noting that a vast majority of inmates are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of any crime.
Sandage said the new mail scanning system should be in place by the end of year.
Sandage said he wished county board members took a more proactive role in understanding jail operations, adding only two current board members have taken him up on his offer to tour the facility.