MA Lawmakers Consider Free Phone Calls from Prisons, Jails
Monday, September 28, 2020
BOSTON, Mass. -- As COVID-19 spreads through prisons and jails, there's legislation - both state and federal - to curb the high price of phone calls for people who are incarcerated, including in Massachusetts.
In some parts of the country, a 15-minute call from behind bars can cost $25. Close to 20 U.S. senators want to make these calls free as a part of a coronavirus relief package, which so far is stalled.
Massachusetts State Senator Cynthia Creem is the sponsor of a Commonwealth bill to make calls from prisons and jails free during the pandemic. She said she sees it as a crucial accommodation.
"The importance of a lifeline between the families and their prisoner is so important," Creem said. "Not only is it important for the person in the prison, it's important for the children who have a parent in prison."
But phone charges are revenue-generators for the corrections system, and some Massachusetts sheriffs worry that making them free would force cuts to programs. Another bill would lower but not eliminate the cost of these calls.
Creem hopes current state budget negotiations will include either bill. The senator pointed out that facilities in the Massachusetts Department of Correction make a lot of money from people making phone calls from jail or prison.
"In 2018, Massachusetts prisons and jails made $9 million in commissions by charging prisoners outrageous prices to talk to their loved ones," she said.
In terms of its budget, she added, the department generally gets the resources it asks for from the state and could survive without the phone revenue. In recent years, the cities of New York and San Francisco have passed laws to make phone calls from jails free.
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