Last Minute Push In Conn. Legislature For Free Prison Phone Calls | Connecticut Public Radio

Last Minute Push In Conn. Legislature For Free Prison Phone Calls

May 29, 2019

A first-in-the-nation bill that would make phone calls from Connecticut prisons free is moving to the next level. 

The bill was approved by the legislature’s Appropriations Committee and now heads to the House, but hurdles still remain. The biggest one is the loss of revenue to the state — $7.7 million. That’s what Connecticut’s been making from prison phone calls each year.

“Right now that is the biggest sticking point,” said Rep. Josh Elliott, who introduced the bill. “There are some Republicans who are interested in this topic. They also don’t like the fact that this money is being obtained in the fashion that it is. But the fact that the state has been reliant on that $7.7 million for a number of years is really hard for us to extricate ourselves from.”

Currently it costs about $5 for a 15 minute call, the second highest rate in the country and it’s usually prisoners’ families who pay for the calls through a prepaid account. And while the state’s been making a 68% return on those calls, Securus Technologies, the company that provides the phone service, has also been making a profit of about $5.2 million.

But Securus is now willing to renegotiate their rates with the state, and Elliott said, as part of an amendment, the proposed legislation wouldn’t go into effect until 2021.

“This would give us and the DOC, and the judicial branch, and the governor’s office time to figure out how we’re going to fill in that hole,” he said.

With less than two weeks left in the session, they’re trying to explore other avenues to get the bill through. “Whether it’s going into a different package, whether it’s getting called as a standalone bill, whether it goes into the budget — there’s a number of ways to get cleaned-up language into different places,” Elliott said.

The legislative session ends June 5.