All Massachusetts Jails to Provide Prisoners Ten Free Minutes of Phone Calls Per Week and Cap Charges on Additional Minutes at 14 Cents
While the Massachusetts Department of Corrections charges prisoners ten or 11 cents per minute for phone calls, the state’s sheriffs set their own rates individually. Some sheriffs charged more than 40 cents per minute.
Now, according to the Massachusetts Sheriff’s Association (MSA), all 14 sheriffs in the state have agreed to provide people incarcerated in their jails ten minutes of free phone usage per week and cap the charges for anyone using more than the allotted ten minutes at 14 cents per additional minute effective August 1, 2021.
MSA president and Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins said the sheriffs were aware of the need to maintain contact with friends and loved-ones to prepare prisoners for re-entry into society.
Another factor may have been a bill, S1559/H1900, backed by Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS) and filed by State Senator Cynthia Creem and Representative Chynah Tyler, which would require the provision of free telephone calls to people incarcerated in the state’s jails and prisons. In promoting the bill, PLS mentioned the phone calls’ positive effect on re-entry and noted that prisoners’ children would also reap benefits of family contact during a vulnerable time.
However, its most powerful argument was that “[p]risoners and their families should not be forced to choose between the cost of utilities and the cost of a child speaking with their parent or relative,” reminding us that it is prisoners’ families, often among the least affluent in society, who generally bear the burden of overpriced phone calls.
A joint hearing was held on October 21, 2021 between the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Public Safety and Security Committee where advocates testified on behalf of the bill, but no vote was taken.