Colorado One of Four States Making Phone Calls Free for Prisoners
On June 7, 2023, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed House Bill (HB) 23-1133, requiring the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide, administer and – most importantly – not to profit from communications services used by prisoners. Over the next two years, the state will pick up an increasing share of the cost of prisoner phone calls, rising from 25% on September 1, 2023, to 35% on July 1, 2024. By July 1, 2025, DOC will cover 100% of the cost.
For the un-incarcerated, services like WhatsApp provide free calling worldwide. But Colorado is now one of just four states providing prisoners free calls. Connecticut became the first state to do so in 2021, followed the next year by California. [See: PLN, Aug. 2021, p.56; and Apr. 2023, p.43.] After Colorado passed HB 23-1133, Minnesota lawmakers voted to make their state the fourth to provide free prisoner calls starting July 1, 2023.
Calling home poses a costly problem for the incarcerated. Prison phone contracts typically rebate a portion of the fee to the prison as a commission, and these kickbacks exorbitantly inflate the cost of a prison phone call. In Kentucky, for example, prisoners must pay $5.70 to make a 15-minute phone call, the highest rate in the country, according to the Prison Phone Justice website maintained by the Human Rights Defense Center, publisher of PLN. The new Colorado law prevents state prisons from raking in any “commission” kickbacks.
Though some federal courts have held that prisoners do not have the right to phone access, it remains the primary connection to their loved ones. Studies also prove that strengthening that connection reduces recidivism risk. The benefits flow to the un-incarcerated, as well; a child with a parent in prison or jail is less likely to experience substance abuse, behavior problems and academic failures if they are able to have regular communication.
Currently, a Colorado prisoner must pay eight cents per minute for a phone call. The bill to lower that cost to zero was sponsored by Democratic state Reps. Mandy Lindsay and Judy Amabile and Democratic state Sens. Julie Gonzalez and Robert Rodriguez. Rep. Lindsay has a family member currently incarcerated and said that how much time her family spends speaking to the prisoner revolves entirely around how much it will cost.
“No-cost prison phone calls will help incarcerated Coloradans stay connected to resources that can help them succeed outside of prison,” Sen. Rodriguez said.
Additional source: Colorado Newsline