Collins advances lower rates for prison phone calls

SPRINGFIELD – State Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-Chicago 16th) advanced legislation today to address the legal and social justice concerns of families affected by the incarceration of a loved one. Currently, a telecommunications company and the state split millions in profits from collect calls prisoners make to family members at a rate of 11.8 cents per minute. Collins’ legislation would cap that rate at seven cents per minute, with no additional service fees.

“The driving objective of our criminal justice system should be rehabilitation, not profit,” Collins said. “Exorbitant rates, fees and minimum charges for phone calls isolate inmates from their loved ones, tearing the fabric of families and communities.”

A decision on prison phone call costs by the Federal Communications Commission is currently pending; in 2003, a woman petitioned the FCC for relief because she could no longer afford to accept phone calls from her incarcerated grandson, and the Commission ruled that state and federal prisons must charge just and reasonable rates. Some states have challenged the order; others, including New Jersey, Ohio and West Virginia, have capped charges for inmate phone calls.

“The people Illinois incarcerates are sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers,” Collins said. “Giving them the opportunity to maintain and cultivate these vital human relationships while they are in prison will result in stronger family ties and a safer society upon their release. We must stop punishing for profit the families of the incarcerated.”

The legislation, House Bill 6200, would require the Department of Corrections to contract with the vendor that offers the lowest rate, capped at seven cents per minute for domestic calls, by January 1, 2018. It now returns to the House for a vote on changes made in the Senate.

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