Massachusetts Jail Phone Cost Reductions Under Attack
These programs are funded through telephone revenue “commissions” paid to Cocchi by ICSolutions and to Evangelidis by Securus.
Phone rates in Cocchi’s jail are 12¢ per minute with “commissions” totaling about $820,000 annually. Phone rates in Evangelidis’ jail are $3 for the first minute and 15¢ per each subsequent minute, with “commissions” totaling about $300,000 annually.
Both sheriffs say they allow for free phone calls because of the pandemic. They are having to run three and four classes per program each week in order to meet distancing requirements, adding costs to keep them ongoing. They state phone “commissions” pay the costs for these programs.
They claim to be severely underfunded by lawmakers and cannot continue rehabilitative programming without phone provider “commissions.” Nonetheless, the state legislature in October 2020 was considering Senate Bill 2846 (previously Senate Bill 1372) that would require prisons and jails to provide free phone calls to “prisoners and receiving parties.”
Executive Director Bianca Tylek of Worth Rises testified before the legislature that families accepting collect calls must first pay hefty security deposits, then 36¢ per minute.
Yearly deposits, fees and taxes total about $7.4 million annually with actual total minute amounts of $16.8 million. The three phone service providers in the state are Global Tel*Link, ICSolutions and Securus.
She stressed that phone contact between prisoners and their families keeps their relationships strong and help prisoners to successfully reintegrate back into society after their release from jails or prisons. She further testified that phone rates were so onerous that families often found themselves juggling household expenses and utility and food bills in order to speak with their incarcerated loved ones.
The sheriffs countered that the programs in their jails are equally if not more important to societal reintegration, with particular attention to substance abuse classes. Cocci stated that if phone revenues lost are not offset by legislative apportions “those programs are getting cut.”
Staff attorney Bonnie Tenneriello of Prisoners’ Legal Service of Massachusetts said it’s “heartless” for financially vulnerable relatives of prisoners to be required to pay for mental health and substance abuse programming.
“They’re asking poor people to pay for the costs of these needs, and let’s just be clear, why do people need substance abuse treatment? Why do they need mental health treatment? Look at the communities they come from. Look at the socioeconomic stressors. You’re going to ask these people to bear the costs of treatment for problems that society has created. That is unconscionable.”
At press time, there were indications that Senate Bill 2846 would be enacted.