Inmate ‘chirps’ to earn pennies for county

Courtesy Photo A chirp device appears in this August 2022 photo provided by the Alpena County Jail.

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

Jail Administrator Christina Bednarski told commissioners she had renegotiated a contract with the company that provides devices inmates can use to send messages similar to texts.

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

Currently, the communications company receives all profit from the devices.

Jail administration negotiated that arrangement several years ago, when the company gave the jail needed booking software in exchange for gathering revenue with each chirp, Alpena County Sheriff Erik Smith told The News.

Inmates pay for each chirp out of their accounts.

The jail also gains revenue from phone calls made on wall phones inside the cells, Smith said.

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

If running a facility occupied less of her time, she would have spent more of it on the negotiations, the jail administrator replied.

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

Corrections officers have access to all messages sent with the devices but don’t have time to read all of them. Certain words will send an alert to staff to pay attention, but inmates learn to not use those words, she said.

Some inmates have figured out how to chirp with each other within the jail, creating a security risk.

Should inmates communicate secretly between cells and plan a riot or other coordinated action, “We wouldn’t be looking at great circumstances,” Bednarski said.


The Alpena County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday also:

∫ voted to give $5,000 to the Alpena County Plaza Pool and pay more than $9,000 to cover the pool’s portion of a loan payment. Even with that help, the pool will struggle financially this year because of ongoing problems with its aging building, Alpena County Treasurer Kim Ludlow told commissioners.

∫ agreed that Alpena County Probate Judge Alan Curtis could proceed with steps needed to hire a non-attorney magistrate for the 88th District Court.

∫ Alpena County Prosecutor Cynthia Muszynski announced that her office had hired a new assistant prosecutor, who will begin work on Thursday, and is interviewing for a part-time victim advocate.

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


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