May 31, 2016
For Immediate Release
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – In a welcome bipartisan move, a bill helping those incarcerated stay in contact with loved ones passed the Senate last Friday with a unanimous vote and is expected to pass the House today on concurrence with a strong bipartisan vote.
The bill’s champion, State Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) says telephone calls placed by inmates in Illinois correctional facilities have been inflated and cost the families of incarcerated individuals more than they can bear financially. Heeding the call from family members who say they have gone into debt to pay for calls, Ammons has been working to lower costs.
“Children shouldn’t be told their love is too expensive,” shared Wandjell Harvey-Robinson, who grew up struggling to stay in contact with her parents who were both incarcerated. “Representative Ammons, Senator Collins, and Governor Rauner: thank you for being the people I needed when I was younger. There are thousands of Illinois children whose lives will be dramatically improved by your actions today and, on their behalf, I say thank you.”
Under the measure, prison phone call rates would be cut in half, or a maximum of 7 cents per minute, starting January 1, 2018.
“It is time that we took a stand for the families of those who are voiceless,” Ammons said. “The Family Connections bill is more than just financial relief for families trying to maintain a relationship with their loved ones who are incarcerated. It is an example of the impact the Illinois General Assembly can have on criminal justice reform when we work together in a bipartisan manner.”
“This bill will have not only an immediate impact on Illinois families, but it will reverberate through our state for generations as we remove a huge obstacle to reducing recidivism and keeping Illinois families intact, strong, and healthy,” said Senator Collins, Senate champion of the bill.
“With one of the least affordable rates in the country, Illinois is ripe for prison phone call reform,” said Danielle Chynoweth of the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), a partner in the National Campaign for Prison Phone Justice. “We applaud Illinois legislators for hearing the call of low income families, and state and federal regulators, in reining in predatory phone rates.”
In October, the Federal Communications Commission moved to reform prison phone rates, capping rates a 11 cents a minute and calling for states to go lower. That rate relief has been held up by legal challenges by Securus and GlobalTel*Link, the two biggest prison phone providers.
Industries serving the captive audience of prisoners are some of the fastest growing in the country. “Securus, which provides phone services to 2,600 prisons and jails in 47 states, made $114.6 million in profit on that revenue in 2014. Securus’ gross profit margin was a whopping 51 percent,” states a report from the Prison Policy Initiative.
“We are pleased that Illinois officials were willing to reach a compromise on prison phone rates that will benefit prisoners’ families,” said Paul Wright Executive Director of the Human Rights Defense Center. “For too long, prison telecom companies and their government partners have ruthlessly exploited prisoners’ family members through exorbitant phone rates, and the agreement to reduce those rates to more reasonable levels provides a small measure of justice that is long overdue.”
Now that it has passed the General Assembly, the bill goes to the Governor’s desk to be signed into state law.