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Family Connections Bill Signed into Law in Illinois

Illinois Governor Bruce V. Rauner signed HB 6200, the Family Connections Bill, into law on August 22, 2016. Under the provisions of that legislation, domestic prison phone rates within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and Department of Juvenile Justice will be capped at $0.07/min. while the rate for international calls will be capped at $0.23/min., effective January 1, 2018. Advocates argued that the bill, which received bipartisan support, will reduce recidivism and help prisoners reintegrate into their communities after being released by making it more affordable for them to stay in touch with their families while incarcerated.

“We need to approach our criminal justice system with more compassion,” Governor Rauner stated. “I want those who did something wrong to face punishment, but we must make sure that the punishment fits the crime. We need to explore new avenues so that we’re balancing punishment with rehabilitation and not needlessly tearing families and lives apart.”

An order issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in October 2015, which went into effect at IDOC facilities in March 2016, eliminated all but three ancillary fees that can be charged for inmate calling services (ICS). As a result, phone rates at Illinois prisons were changed to $3.35 for the first minute and $0.02/min. for each additional minute, or $3.63 for a 15-minute call. Under HB 6200, which was codified as Public Act 099-0878 and amended Section 3-4-1 of the Unified Code of Corrections, the same call will cost just $1.05 once the rate caps go into effect. The caps only apply to phone calls made from state prisons, not local jails.

According to the Illinois Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, the IDOC receives the largest commission kickback from prison telecom companies compared to other states. “Each year, $12 million in commissions are deposited into the Illinois General Assembly’s 523 Fund, about which there is no public information. When asked, the IDOC said it ‘does not maintain or possess records’ on where this money goes,” the Campaign stated. HB 6200 did not eliminate the IDOC’s ability to continue to receive kickbacks under its phone contract; only time will tell what impact the bill has on the state’s ICS revenue, which is in effect a subsidy paid by prisoners’ families.

HB 6200’s rate cap of $0.07/min. for domestic calls is almost half the $0.13/min. modified rate cap ordered by the Federal Communications Commission on August 4, 2016 [see related article in this issue of PLN], and further proof that prison phone rates can be significantly reduced yet still generate profit for ICS providers.

The Human Rights Defense Center, which co-founded the national Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, has long advocated for a flat $0.05/min. rate for all calls made from prisons and jails with no additional fees or costs. This successful legislative effort in Illinois continues to move the Campaign in the right direction.

HB 6200 was sponsored by Rep. Carol Ammons. “The Family Connections bill is more than just financial relief for families trying to maintain a relationship with their loved ones who are incarcerated,” she said. “It is an example of the impact the Illinois General Assembly can have on criminal justice reform when we work together and with the support and cooperation of the governor’s office.”


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