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Lawmakers Advance Bill For Free Prison Phone Calls

Adam Walker Cleaveland/flickr creative commons

The Connecticut state Judiciary Committee passed a bill this week that could make prison phone calls free.

State Representative Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, who favors the bill, said the committee learned that Connecticut is an extreme outlier in terms of charges for in-prison calls. 

“I think it was fairly shocking and disturbing to many members of this committee to find our state is at or near the top in the cost of telecom services,” said Stafstrom.

With phone charges around $4 per 15 minutes, the state reportedly collects about $8 million dollars a year on those calls — revenue that’s used for probation positions, criminal justice programs, and other related expenses, according to state officials. Losing that revenue concerns some committee members like Senator John Kissel, R-Enfield, who voted in favor of the bill, but feels that it goes too far.

“I further have concerns of going from where we are to absolutely no charge whatsoever because I think that’s just too far of a swing of the pendulum,” said Kissel. “But perhaps we could get more into the middle of the pack regarding where Connecticut is vis-a-vis other states.”

Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, who did not support the bill, agreed.

“Somebody has to pay for this service to be rendered,” he said. “On the other hand, if people only knew that the state of Connecticut is profiting from communications between family members and those that are incarcerated — I think that is absolutely horrible.”

New York City signed a bill into law last year making it the first major city in the nation to make phone calls free. Connecticut could be the first state to pass such a measure.

The bill now goes to the Appropriations Committee.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.
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