Families want to end prison phone call charges


They say steep costs burden efforts to maintain crucial connection

October 22, 2019
CommonWealth Magazine
Sarah Betancourt

AYANA AUBOURG MET her father Winchel Aubourg as an infant while he was behind bars for a drug-related crime. For the next 17 years, she spoke with him over the phone, and occasionally visited while he was held in facilities in Massachusetts and New Jersey. “You have no idea what receiving those phone calls meant for me,” Aubourg, now 25, told members of the state’s Criminal Justice Reform Caucus at a briefing on Tuesday.

The conversations were invaluable, she said, but they came at a steep cost. Inmates are charged for prison phone calls, and Aubourg said typical charges for two 20-minute calls each week from a prison inmate can approach $2,000 a year.

State Sen. William Brownsberger is looking to change that. The Senate co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary has introduced a bill to eliminate all charges for inmate phone calls.

According to Prisoners’ Legal Services, while eliminating charges for inmate calls would impose a cost on the state, without commissions and the need to track or recover charges to consumer accounts, the state would be able to contract for a much lower rate than currently, thus saving money.

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