Every sheriff's department in Massachusetts has agreed to provide people incarcerated at county jails and houses of correction with at least 10 minutes of free phone calls each week and to reduce the cost of subsequent calls, the Massachusetts Sheriffs' Association announced.
Currently, each county sheriff's department can set its own cost for inmate telephone calls. The money raised is put towards educational programs, vocational skills training and other services designed to prepare inmates for re-entry into society. While the state Department of Correction charges 10 or 11 cents per minute for phone calls, some sheriffs have charged more than 40 cents per minute for calls, according to Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts.
In addition to making the first 10 minutes of phone calls each week free for inmates, the state's 14 sheriffs also agreed to charge no more than 14 cents a minute after the initial 10 minutes expires.
"My fellow Sheriffs and I know that contact with friends and loved ones is an essential component for preparing justice-involved individuals for successful reentry into society," said Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, who serves as president of the Massachusetts Sheriffs' Association. "This unanimous decision by the fourteen Sheriffs is reflective of our commitment to those in our care and custody. As the nature of corrections continues to evolve in the Commonwealth, we are proud to re-affirm our commitment to maintaining and strengthening familial bonds."
The Massachusetts Sheriffs' Association said the new policy will go into effect no later than Aug. 1.
Last week, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed a law making telephone calls free for inmates and their families. Prisoners' Legal Services backs a bill (S 1559/H 1900) filed here by Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Chynah Tyler to provide telephone calls for no cost to incarcerated people at all state prisons and county jails and houses of correction.
"Studies show that contact with loved ones promotes lower recidivism rates and successful reentry. The telephone is a lifeline for prisoners and their families, since prisons are often located in remote areas; the children of incarcerated men and women are particularly vulnerable," the organization wrote on its advocacy page. "Prisoners and their families should not be forced to choose between the cost of utilities and the cost of a child speaking with their parent or relative."