As the legislative session is ending, will any efforts be made to end exorbitant prison and jail phone rates? Other states have rates of less than 5 cents per minute.
The criminal justice bill went to conference with a provision that would have all correctional facilities report to the Chairs of Judiciary, Public Safety and Telecommunications with rate, site commissions (legal kickbacks banned in other states), revenue info, as well as suggestions about what a “reasonable residential rate” is (hard to say, since who pays by the minute for a landline anymore?) by July 1, 2018, but when it came out of the conference committee, the reporting date was extended to December 31, 2018. It surely doesn’t take 5 months for a custodian of records or purchasing department to pull a contract and revenue info. I’ve requested this info and gotten it in less than 10 business days, sometimes less than 7!
Here’s my letter to the Globe from May 13th supporting passage of S.1336.
I strongly support the lawsuit against Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson and Securus Technologies for overcharging incarcerated individuals and their families for calls (“Lawsuit challenges cost of calling from jail,” Metro, May 6). Studies show that maintaining communication for the incarcerated lowers recidivism. A $3.16 rate for the first minute is unjustifiable, especially since it violates an interim state Department of Telecommunications and Cable cap of 21 cents per minute.
The problem goes beyond Bristol County. Securus is violating the DTC cap in other jails where it operates. Moreover, all Massachusetts jails and the state receive kickbacks, or so-called commissions. The state gets commissions of 76 percent on these contracts, which are passed on to incarcerated individuals and their families. Barnstable receives an 85 percent commission. Parents shouldn’t have to forgo calls to their children just so the state can increase its revenue, taking from those who can least afford it. Massachusetts should follow other states and ban commissions altogether. State Senator Mark Montigny’s bill, S. 1336, would do that. It also requires contracts to be awarded to companies offering the lowest rates. It is unfair for families to have to choose between paying for calls to loved ones and essential bills.
Massachusetts jails, many with rates comparable to Bristol’s, are much worse than the state prison system which charges 10 or 11 cents for in-state calls and 14 cents for interstate. You can review most of the contracts with rate info at the Prison Policy Initiative website here.