Connecticut Just Got One Step Closer to Making Prison Calls Free

The first-in-the-nation legislation would be a huge win for criminal justice.

Julie Jacobson, File/AP

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

Connecticut’s state Senate voted Thursday to enact first-in-the-nation legislation that would make it free for incarcerated people to place phone calls. If the bill passes in the House and is signed into law by the governor, it’ll be a historic win for inmates’ rights.

Phone calls are a crucial way for incarcerated people to reach legal help or their families, but costs can be prohibitive—even for pretrial inmates who haven’t been convicted of any crimes. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a 15-minute in-state phone call in Connecticut cost $3.65 in 2019, which is more expensive than any state besides Arkansas. New York City made calls from jails free in 2018, but Connecticut could be the first to enact similar legislation statewide.

The bill would also prevent in-person prison visits from being replaced by video calls. As my colleague Tim Murphy reported in 2015, companies that run video visitation programs have been squeezing money from inmates, at the additional expense of face-to-face interaction with their loved ones. Tim laid out the details of a contract between the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona and visitation app company Securus:

A 20-minute online video chat with a Maricopa County inmate costs $5. That’s the promotional rate; it then goes up to $12.95. The company is covering the $2.3 million cost of installing the on-site video in return for receiving all the profits from remote visitation until it hits 8,000 monthly paid visits—or roughly one per inmate. After that, the sheriff’s office will take a cut of the fees—another big selling point for cash-strapped cities and counties. Jails usually get somewhere between 10 and 30 percent of the profits from remote video visits after hitting certain traffic benchmarks.

The bill is likely to pass in Connecticut’s Democratic-controlled state House, but it’s unclear whether Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, who stonewalled similar legislation under pressure from lobbyists in 2019, would sign the bill into law.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate