Rauner signs bill limiting prison phone call costs

Rauner signs bill limiting prison phone call costs

New law reduces the rate for which Illinois’ adult and juvenile corrections facilities can contract for inmate telephone service.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill Aug. 19 limiting how much state prisons can let contractors charge inmates and their families for phone calls.

The new law, Public Act 99-0878, provides that beginning Jan. 1, 2018, the Department of Central Management Services must contract with whichever qualified telephone service provider “proposes the lowest per minute rate not exceeding 7 cents per minute for debit, prepaid, collect calls” and that doesn’t charge an additional “tax, service charge or…fee” outside of the per minute rate.

Inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections, or IDOC, currently pay a flat rate of $4.08 for a phone call of up to 30 minutes, according to the Illinois Campaign for Prison Justice. This same group has also said Illinois “collects the largest amount of commissions in the country, some $12 million a year” in revenue from these calls. The law requires IDOC to deposit any commissions it collects in a “reimbursement and education fund,” which is used to cover costs incurred by IDOC.

Research shows that inmates who maintain regular contact with family members and support networks while incarcerated have a better chance at successful re-entry upon release, and a reduced risk for recidivism. A program that can help make a dent in recidivism makes good fiscal sense, given that recidivism is projected to cost Illinois $16.7 billion in taxpayer and victimization costs and lost economic activity over the next five years.

But not only does reducing phone costs for inmates and their families comport with sound fiscal policy, it’s also the right thing to do. Sixty-three percent of Illinois prison inmates are parents. High barriers to family phone calls harm the innocent children of inmates, making it harder for them to stay in contact with their incarcerated parents.

Illinois is making slow but steady progress toward criminal justice reform. Reforms like reducing phone call costs for inmates can help offenders rehabilitate in prison and can make them less likely to reoffend when released – a win for communities, taxpayers and inmates and their families alike.

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