Inmate ‘Tweets’ to Earn Pennies for the County | News, Sports, Jobs

News photo by Julie Riddle Corp. Alpena County Jail Correctional Officer Shelby Dewar holds a beeper, a device used by inmates to send text-like messages, at the jail Tuesday.

ALPENA — Alpena County will earn pennies from inmates who communicate with the outside world after county commissioners on Tuesday approved an amendment to a contract between Alpena County Jail and a communications company.

Prison administrator Christina Bednarski told commissioners she had renegotiated a contract with the company that provides devices that inmates can use to send text-like messages.

Called “chirps,” the devices are used often enough to bring in $800 to $1,000 a month after the contract is renegotiated, which will allocate the county one cent per chirp or message, Bednarski told the commissioners.

Currently, the communication company is getting all the benefits from the devices.

The prison service brokered the arrangement several years ago, when the company provided the prison with needed booking software in exchange for collecting revenue with each tweet, Alpena County Sheriff Erik Smith said. , at The News.

Inmates pay for every beep in their accounts.

The prison also derives revenue from phone calls made on wall phones inside cells, Smith said.

An increase in the number of inmates using the devices allowed Bednarski to renegotiate the contract. Commissioners approved the change to collect a penny per tweet, although one commissioner said Bednarski should have fought for two cents.

If running a facility took up less of her time, she would have spent more on negotiations, the prison administrator replied.

Chirp devices allow inmates to contact those outside the prison, but they cause headaches for prison staff who have to monitor inmate communications, Bednarski told commissioners.

Prison officers have access to all messages sent with the devices but do not have time to read them all. Certain words will send an alert to staff to pay attention, but inmates are taught not to use those words, she said.

Some inmates figured out how to tweet with each other in the prison, creating a security risk.

If inmates secretly communicated between cells and planned a riot or other coordinated action, “we wouldn’t be looking at big circumstances,” Bednarski said.


On Tuesday, the Alpena County Board of Commissioners also:

∫ voted to donate $5,000 to the Alpena County Plaza pool and pay more than $9,000 to cover the pool portion of a loan repayment. Even with that help, the pool will struggle financially this year due to ongoing issues with its aging building, Alpena County Treasurer Kim Ludlow told commissioners.

∫ agreed that Alpena County Probate Judge Alan Curtis could take the necessary steps to hire a non-prosecuting magistrate for the 88th District Court.

∫ Alpena County District Attorney Cynthia Muszynski announced that her office has hired a new assistant district attorney, who will begin work Thursday, and is interviewing a part-time victims’ advocate.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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