Skip navigation

Massachusetts Becomes the Fifth State to Make Prison Phone Calls Free

Until December 1, 2023, Massachusetts prisoners and their families paid 12 cents per minute for phone calls, 14 cents in jails, though the first 10 minutes there every month were free. That added up to about $25 million annually—money that will now be saved, after the 2024 state budget took effect. Signed by Democratic Governor Maura Healy on August 9, 2023, that included an amendment making telecommunication free for prisoners.

That made Massachusetts the fifth state to mandate free telecommunications from its lockups, after Connecticut (in 2021), California (in 2022), as well as Colorado and Minnesota (in 2023). But the measure improves on legislation in those other states because it applies to both prisons and jails, covering not only phone calls but also video calls, email and messaging. The law also bars lockups from taking kickbacks from prison telecom vendors—something the state supreme court said it would not do, as PLN reported. [See: PLN, Mar. 2023, p.50.]

A dedicated $20-million trust fund will pay the costs. Other provisions protect in-person visitation as well as prisoners’ access to calls, since supporters of the reform worried that fewer calls would be available once they became free. Jails and prisons may not limit communication access beyond their existing policies.

William “7even” Ragland, head of a prisoner coalition at Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Norfolk, noted the disproportionate economic impact of the old system on racial minorities. “Black and brown people—many in poverty—make up 21 percent of the Massachusetts population but roughly 60 percent of its prison and jail population,” Ragland said. With so many struggling to meet basic needs, one in three prisoner families has gone into debt just to maintain communication.

Even those who do not go into debt make significant personal sacrifices to keep in contact. Annalyse Gosselin works two jobs—one as a nursing assistant and one at a grocery store—but still earns less than $20,000 a year, spending over $5,000 of it on communications and commissary purchases for her boyfriend, prisoner Syrelle Grace.

For Joanna Levesque, free calls with her incarcerated partner, Chris O’Connell, mean improved nutrition; keeping up with multiple jobs, Levesque often skipped breakfast and lunch to afford the calls to O’Connell.

Similar legislation is planned in several states, including Hawaii, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.   


Source: WGBH