February 5th, 2019
CHICOPEE, Mass. (AP) — Jennifer Thurston’s family spends up to $50 a week on phone calls to stay in touch with her while she is in custody. It’s a lot for a family struggling with poverty and poor health.
“My husband’s on disability,” said Thurston, an Adams woman serving time for embezzlement. “He doesn’t have a lot of money.”
Phone calls are sometimes the only comfort for families who live far from the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center, run by the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, where Thurston and other women from surrounding counties are held both before trial and while serving sentences.
But the calls are costly because they must be made through an outside company — much more costly than for people outside jails.
Highsmith and attorneys for Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts are among several groups representing four people in a class-action lawsuit against the Bristol County Sheriff, and Securus, the company that charges inmates 16 cents per minute, and $3.16 for the first minute, even for redials made after the first is disconnected.
Highsmith and other attorneys are pushing a consumer protection argument. They liken the setup to an illegal kickback scheme in which state institutions are indirectly extracting extra revenue by outsourcing with a private-sector company.