I support US Representative Ayanna Pressley’s endorsement of no-cost calls for prisons and jails. Currently, those incarcerated and their families provide revenue to sheriffs and the Department of Correction (“A lifeline between loved ones shouldn’t cost so much,” Renée Graham, Ideas, Oct. 11). A bill in the Massachusetts Senate, S.2846, would end this practice, building on an existing trend. Recently, three of 13 sheriffs eliminated commissions. Berkshire County’s sheriff, Thomas Bowler, said in June that lowering rates and ending commissions “will help ease the financial burden placed on families” and make “our community stronger.”
Those sheriffs did not lower rates beyond federal and state 21-cent per-minute rate caps, allowing Texas-based Securus Technologies Inc., the calling service vendor, to profit from families. In March, prompted by COVID-19-related protocols, Worcester County’s sheriff, Lew Evangelidis, started two weekly free phone calls, for which he pays Securus 2.5 cents per minute. Securus provides Dallas County calls for 1.2 cents per minute. If the state paid for calls, they would be closer to cost, as they are for localities already providing no-cost calls.
The Republican-appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman, who says rates are “egregiously high,” asked governors to lower them. Baker’s Correction Department, instead of lowering rates, raised them in February, just before visiting shut down for six months. Baker should take chairman Ajit Pai’s advice immediately.
Massachusetts legislators should pass S.2846, and Baker should sign it.