My 5-year-old has just entered kindergarten, and it’s a major milestone for her and for me. It’s great to get my mother’s emotional support and advice about preparing my kid for school – especially during a pandemic.
Unfortunately, I can’t always talk to my mom when I need to. Our phone calls are much, much more expensive than your calls with your mom. My mother is incarcerated, and the charges to families like mine for telephone calls from jails and prisons are unbelievably high.
My mother – who my daughter calls Queen Mommy – is our family’s matriarch. The two of them have a very close, loving, playful relationship. We used to visit as often as we could, but since the pandemic we’ve been completely dependent on the phone for contact.
We can spend almost $60 a month on those calls – money I sometimes just don’t have since I struggle to pay for the basic needs of myself and my daughter: rent, groceries, health care, and transportation.
I have heard corrections officials say that they need the money generated by my phone calls to provide programs for incarcerated people. This is despite the fact that in Massachusetts, spending on incarceration has been steadily rising while the incarcerated population has been shrinking. It’s hard to believe the incarceration system depends on poor families as a revenue source to pay for the “rehabilitation” part of incarceration.
The Legislature can make this right with S.2846, which would eliminate charges for calls between families and their incarcerated loved ones. Legislators can look at New York City, which successfully eliminated these high charges, bringing families closer together. This would make it possible for my mom to hear all about my daughter’s first days at school, help her with schoolwork, and say goodnight without me worrying about my bills.
Contact between incarcerated people and their families is good for all of us – not just me, my mom, and my daughter – but staff and incarcerated people too. Family contact reduces violence in prisons, helps with mental health, and reduces recidivism. Charging families to stay in touch is not only cruel, it’s bad policy.
Hampden County Sheriff
Maintaining productive relationships with your family while incarcerated is vital to successful re-entry to the community. But programming for those in our custody is equally important. While I understand the idea behind S.2846, free phone calls will come at a cost. If the Commonwealth – and taxpayers – wish to go down this path and we’re able to fully fund these vital programs, I will be there to support it.
Fees collected from inmate phone calls contribute to a pool of funds that is, statutorily, directed back to programs that directly benefit inmates. The proposed legislation offers no funding to compensate for the loss of those much-needed revenues, so as written I cannot support it.
In recent years, inmate phone charges have been lowered in many county correctional facilities. I’m proud my jail currently has the lowest rates. And, despite the tens of thousands of calls made annually from our facilities, I receive no complaints from inmates or their families regarding these reasonable phone costs of 12 cents a minute, which is 42 percent below the cap set by the state.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our office is providing two free hours of phone calls per week, free video visits, and free stamped envelopes to ensure family members can stay in touch with incarcerated inmates.
But the phone fees generate critical funding that supports inmate programs and services. For example, a dedicated bus from downtown Springfield to the Ludlow jails, allowing visitors without transportation to see incarcerated loved ones, is paid for by these revenues at an annual cost of over $100,000.
The commissions also fund such costs as inmate library services, education supplies, GED testing, educational training in culinary arts and other fields, inmate compensation for jobs, and release planning.
Moreover, the monitoring of phone calls in correctional facilities helps maintain institutional security and protect the public by identifying threats of intimidation, coercion, and extortion directed at inmates, family members, and the community at large. Phone fees fund the equipment and staff costs required.
While I understand and do not completely disagree with the advocacy for free phone calls for inmates, what will the true cost be?
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact email@example.com.