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Colorado Legislature approves bill to gradually reduce cost of prison phone calls

Supporters say inmates should maintain communication with support systems
Inmates in the La Plata County Jail exercise during their recreation time in August 2019. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

A Colorado bill that passed both chambers of the Legislature would gradually reduce the cost of phone calls for people in Department of Corrections custody over the next couple years, making them free by July 2025.

If signed into law, House Bill 23-1133 would initially require the DOC to cover 25% of phone call costs for people in correctional facilities and juvenile detentions starting on Sept. 1, then 35% of the cost on July 1, 2024, and finally the full cost starting July 1, 2025. The bill passed a vote of the full Colorado Senate on Wednesday, leaving it ready for Gov. Jared Polis’ signature. Every vote against the bill came from Republicans in both chambers, and every Republican was opposed.

The bill sponsors – Democratic Reps. Mandy Lindsay of Aurora and Judy Amabile of Boulder and Democratic Sens. Julie Gonzales and Robert Rodriguez, both of Denver – want incarcerated people to more easily connect with their families, as current DOC policy charges 8 cents per minute for phone calls.

Lindsay has a relative who is incarcerated in Cañon City, and she said the amount of time her family spends talking to this relative revolves around how much it will cost.

“Maintaining these relationships are really important for the incarcerated folks, it’s important for family members and it’s also important for children,” Lindsay said at the bill’s February House Judiciary Committee hearing. “So we want to make sure that we are encouraging these relationships and for families to stay connected so that when people are released they can still maintain those bridges and connections.”

Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday that the bill prevents DOC facilities from collecting any revenue from communication services, and also asks service providers to collect data on the communications at each facility. Rodriguez said the ability of people in custody to maintain communication with their support systems is essential to their well-being and reducing recidivism.

“No-cost prison phone calls will help incarcerated Coloradans stay connected to resources that can help them succeed outside of prison,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “Data shows that people who are able to maintain connections with their support system are more likely to succeed and less likely to return to the prison system. Making prison phone calls free is the right thing to do for incarcerated Coloradans and their families and friends, and I look forward to seeing this bill across the finish line.”

Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, said the bill provides some relief for the families of incarcerated individuals, as they have to send in money for necessities like toiletries as well. The investment is “well worth” the return for those the bill will impact, she said.

“It’s just trying to relieve some of the financial burden that is pushed on to families with a real aim of maintaining family connections,” Donner said. “It’s good for the people inside, it’s good for the families and their kids to stay in touch, and it also has a recidivism reduction.”

To read more stories from Colorado Newsline, visit www.coloradonewsline.com.