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California Prisons Will Offer Free Calls Thanks to New Law Passed by Governor Newsom

December 27, 2022 | Kali Girl

In California, prisoners have struggled to maintain contact with their loved ones due to the high cost of prison phone calls, which are managed by a $1.4 billion-per-year industry nationwide. However, thanks to legislation signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, these calls will become free starting in January. Senator Josh Becker, who authored SB1008, stated, “The ability to call your partner, children, or friends to instantly share your joys or sadness is something most of us take for granted according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

However, for incarcerated people and their families, simple contact over a phone is tightly restricted, mainly due to the outrageous charges imposed to make a call.” The cost of these calls has been exorbitant, although state and local officials have attempted to reduce them in recent years. The California prison system’s contract with Global Tel Link in 2020 set rates for calls from prisons at 25 cents per minute, a significant decrease from previous rates, and the state has also recently implemented additional limits on calls from both prisons and county jails.

But Becker says the cost of calls to families in California is still a heavy burden, clocking in at a whopping $68.2 million a year, according to prison advocacy nonprofit Worth Rises, which cosponsored SB1008. Inmates are able to place calls from prison phones, but they’re unable to receive any calls themselves.

The loved ones of inmates who want to stay in touch must foot the bill and set up an account with the county or state to accept the calls. And it’s not just a problem in California – the Ella Baker Center reports that one in three inmate families across the nation have gone into debt due to the high cost of calls and visits.

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“Research shows the more you stay in touch with your family, the better you do when you get out,” Anne Stuhldreher, director of financial justice for San Francisco city Treasurer José Cisneros and an advocate of the city’s fee-elimination measure, said Friday. “Now they can call around, look for a place to stay, look for a job, and their family can get ready. It’s a small investment that I think will make a huge difference.”

San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto testified in support of SB1008 before an Assembly committee, stating that the city’s decision to eliminate jail phone fees has had a positive impact on incarcerated individuals by allowing them to maintain stronger connections with their loved ones. Additionally, the move has relieved some of the economic strain on the families of incarcerated individuals, who often struggle to make ends meet in the city.

While critics argue that the measure could lead to an increase in the number of calls made from prisons, supporters argue that it is a necessary and long overdue change that will help to facilitate the reintegration of prisoners into society.

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