Massachusetts: Pass the Keep Families Connected Bill for Incarcerated People & Their Loved Ones
Massachusetts State Legislators
Hello Massachusetts resident!
We are collecting signatures from Massachusetts residents for a letter to our legislators to show support for the Keeping Families Connected bill, which would eliminate the cost of phone and video calls for incarcerated people and their loved ones.
We need to show our elected officials that we support ending the exploitation of families in our community. We will share the following letter, with all of our names as signatories, with our legislators and the general public as a show of community support.
Families for Justice as Healing, a Roxbury-based organization led by incarcerated women, formerly incarcerated women, and women with incarcerated loved ones, has led the push to keep families connected in Massachusetts. While the bill is immensely popular with individuals, organizations, and many legislators, the bill did not make it to the floor for a vote last session. This year, the bill is back in both the Massachusetts House (H 1900) and Senate (S 1559). We have to make sure the Keeping Families Connected bill gets passed this session to provide immediate relief to families across Massachusetts.
As of July 6, 2021, the bill has 41 cosponsors in the House (H 1900), and 17 in the Senate (S 1559). Is your senator and representative on the list? After signing, please contact your legislators today and ask for their support on the bill! And then let us know how that call went- we'll give you information on how after you sign the petition.
If you are part of an organization, please click here to join our list of organizational endorsements!
Massachusetts State Legislators
From: [Your Name]
We write today to ask that the Legislature pass the Keep Families Connected bill, H 1900 and S 1559. Because of discrimination in the criminal-legal system, eliminating corporate profit from telephone and video visitation service for incarcerated people is a racial and economic justice issue that will greatly benefit families of color and low-income families in the Commonwealth.
Currently, families with incarcerated loved ones are forced to pay up to $6.15 for a simple 15- minute local call. It doesn’t have to be this way: New York City passed a law to make phone calls free in 2018. In addition, on June 16, 2021, Connecticut became the first state in the United States to make prison phone calls and all other prison communication free.
Massachusetts families pay $24 million each year to connect with incarcerated loved ones; one in three of these families goes into debt to keep in touch. Even before COVID-19, more than 50 percent of families with an incarcerated loved one struggled to pay for basic housing and food needs. The Commonwealth’s failure to provide no cost communication forces families to make impossible decisions between paying for rent, groceries, or saying, “I love you” or “goodnight” over the phone. As one of our incarcerated sisters notes, “When you are incarcerated, you are locked down the majority of the day. Not being able to see or touch your loved one -- that’s your only form of communication. Phone calls are the best way to keep yourself alive.”
Study after study confirms that contact with family and friends is critical for people’s well-being and is a sensible investment in the Commonwealth’s future. But instead of providing phone calls out of their budgets, the Department of Correction and Sheriffs give private for-profit companies monopoly contracts that inflate the cost of calls and then charge the people receiving calls these inflated rates. In most counties in Massachusetts, the cost of a phone call from jail is far higher than the cost of an ordinary phone call and even a call from state prison. Families are being exploited by these arrangements between prisons, jails, and corporations.
Over the last ten years, correctional budgets have substantially increased, even as the number of people in prison and jail has significantly decreased. Yet, year after year, the Department of Corrections and Sheriffs spend more and more of their legislated budget on increasing payroll and salaries instead of providing essential services like phone calls or video visits to people in their custody.
Although some prisons and jails have resumed in-person visits, phone calls are still the primary way incarcerated people connect with their friends and family. Visits are not practical for many people, because they have underlying health conditions or because they don't have a car. And COVID-19 remains a risk in group settings such as prisons, especially given that a substantial number of staff and incarcerated people are not vaccinated. Indeed, the ongoing danger of COVID-19 continues to limit recreation and group activities in prisons, making contact with loved ones all the more important. For all these reasons, keeping families connected is a matter of urgency.
As Massachusetts residents, we support policies that lead to decarceration such as diversion and community-based alternatives. No matter what, programs should be the responsibility of the government, because the government has chosen incarceration as a public policy. Programs should not be paid for by families who are already struggling to get by. It’s past time to stop treating poor families of color as a source of revenue.
We urge you to demonstrate leadership and support H.1900 and S.1559 as written.