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Some legislators want to make prison phone calls free

Oct 21, 2021 1:45 pm

Rachel M. Cohen reports for New York Focus that few people pay for individual phone calls anymore. There are few street phone booths accepting quarters, and most phone conversations are now on cell phones. But prisoners still pay per call, as much as $9.95 for a single 15-minute call in New York, where a 2019 report by the Prison Policy Initiative found that New York had the seventh highest average cost for an in-state jail call in the nation. Some legislators now want to make the calls free because of stories such as this: Vivett Dukes tried to call her husband at Sing Sing Correctional Facility every day. “The goal was once in the morning, and once whenever else if we could,” she recalled. “I felt very alone with this. There aren’t a lot of safe places to talk about the true impact of incarceration on family connection and how it really tries to rip up love.... It was very expensive,” she said amid tears. “At times I didn’t eat lunch, or I denied myself other things. The fees that I incurred were enough for me to take a second job.” In Albany County, the local sheriff gets most of the revenue from the prisoner phone calls, and observers suggest the sheriffs will not want to give up their revenue stream. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple did not return a reporter's call for comment. So far, Gov. Kathy Hochul has not said if she favors free phone calls for prisoners. “Governor Hochul is committed to improving justice and safety in jails, and we will review the legislation,” spokesperson Hazel Crampton-Hayes said. Read more about this story at New York Focus.