Free prison telephone calls?

Yes, we're talking about free telephone calls. Take a look at this!

Incarcerated persons in Michigan are learning that they have a valuable friend in the Michigan legislature. State Representative Tenisha Yancey, a Democrat from Harper Woods, is in her third full term serving Michigan’s 1sts House District. I knew nothing about Rep. Yancey until I recently read about a bill she has introduced. She wants free telephone calls for all persons behind bars!  

House Bill #6363 would fully eliminate the fees and charges friends and families of incarcerated people pay to speak with their loved ones inside state prisons and county jails. If approved, this bill has the potential of saving Michigan families tens of millions of dollars every year! 

While telephone rates for state prison calls aren’t the worst in the nation (we’re number 12, charging $2.40 for a 15-minute call!), the same cannot be said about county jail phone service. According to Save and Just Michigan, Michigan families have historically paid some of the highest phone costs in the nation. A 2019 study from the Prison Policy Initiative found that Michigan jails had some of the highest phone call costs in the nation. Jail phone fees vary by county, and in 2019, Roscommon County was the most expensive county in the state at $22.56 for a 15-minute call. Only one state — Arkansas — had a county with a higher phone call rate. 

Rep. Yancey’s bill would guarantee that: 

-People incarcerated in Michigan jails, prisons or juvenile facilities would be able to call friends and family at no charge to themselves or the person receiving the call.

-A certain number of phones are available per people incarcerated or per housing unit.

-People be able to use the phone for two hours a day.

-Access to calls won’t interfere with rehabilitative, educational or vocational programing, or with regular facility operations.

We’ve seen it first-hand, and studies have shown, just how important phone contact is for both the incarcerated and their family members. For example, a 2014 study found that incarcerated women who had any phone calls with family were “significantly less likely to be reincarcerated within five years post release than women who did not report family phone contact.” 

Says Rep. Yancey: (These phone rates) “… place a huge burden on families and friends trying to reach the people they care about. I introduced this bill so that families can connect with their loved ones who are in jail. Studies have shown that staying engaged with family members reduces the chance of recidivism once citizens return home.” 

Now the ball is in our court. It’s up to each one of us to contact our State Representative to support this measure.


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