Harrisburg, PA – June 5, 2024 – Senator Amanda M. Cappelletti (D-Montgomery/Delaware) introduced Senate Bill 1224, legislation that would require that a state prison, or a state or county detention center provide voice communication services free of charge to incarcerated persons initiating or receiving communications.

Currently, phone services in prisons and jails are currently operated by for-profit companies that pay a commission to the county, with the amount of commission dependent on the rate set by counties. While these funds are supposed to be allocated for inmate benefit, they are often directed exclusively toward the benefit of facility employees and sheriff’s departments.

Instead, Senate Bill 1224 will allow all people in custody (including state and county jails) to have access to voice communications free of charge. The bill includes provisions stating that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and Pennsylvania Counties have the option to supplement voice communication service with other communication services, including, but not limited to, video communication and electronic mail or messaging services.

“This legislation aims to provide much-needed reform to a critical facet of the criminal justice system here in Pennsylvania,” said Senator Cappelletti, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Giving families the resources they need to stay connected to their loved ones who are incarcerated will improve outcomes and ensure Pennsylvanians will have access to their meaningful support systems.”

Senate Bill 1224 has already garnered a variety of supporters from advocates and organizations who are experts in this space.

“Pennsylvanians are spending tens of millions of dollars a year to just connect with their incarcerated loved ones. With SB 1224, the legislature has the opportunity to lift this financial burden by making communications free in prisons and jails across the state, joining others that have already taken this step,” said Bianca Tylek, Executive Director of Worth Rises. “We applaud Senator Cappelletti for championing this policy that would provide access to essential communication and improve reentry success, staff safety, family unity, and the wellbeing of children with incarcerated parents. We encourage the rest of the legislature to support the bill.”

“Ninety-five percent of incarcerated people will one day return home. Maintaining relationships is critical in rehabilitation and more successful reentry,” said Amy Sortino, Founder/President of Reentry Ready. “Further, the ability to call organizations and employers would bolster support, open job opportunities and improve community reintegration.”

 “Family and community connections are critical for all incarcerated people, but especially for young people who are growing up behind bars. There are only benefits from incarcerated young people connecting more often and more deeply with their loved ones,” said Bianca van Heydoorn, Executive Director of the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit which supports children charged as if they were adults.

“Maintaining and nourishing bonds through regular communication with loved ones is a substantial form of support during incarceration and a significant component of successful reentry. Prioritizing consistent access to communication is also critical in supporting positive outcomes for children experiencing parental incarceration – however the cost of staying in regular communication can be prohibitive for incarcerated people, often leaving families saddled with this outrageous financial burden,” said Celeste Trusty, Deputy Director of State Policy of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). “Eliminating the cost barrier to such an essential form of communication as telephone calls would better support families experiencing incarceration, and is a smart investment that would benefit the Commonwealth as a whole.”

 “The Prison Society is proud to support SB1224,” said Kirstin Cornnell, Family and Community Support Director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. “Prison is isolating by design, but connection to loved ones during periods of incarceration is critical to support the mental health and well-being of people in custody. It is our families who provide light in our darkest hours. It is our families who give us hope for the future. And it is our families who welcome us with open arms upon coming home.  In a large state like Pennsylvania, loved ones may be housed several hours from home, making it near impossible for lower income families, especially those without access to vehicles, to see each other and provide that much needed support. They are reliant on phone and video calls– and this legislation will ensure that these lifelines do not become prohibitively expensive and inaccessible to some of our most vulnerable neighbors.”

Connecticut became the first state to make all voice communication, including video and electronic mail services, free for inmates and their families in 2022 and following Connecticut’s example, California passed a similar law mandating that the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation provide free calls to all its inmates. Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado have also made prison phone calls free of charge.

Senate Bill 1224 was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it will await a vote or hearing, as decided by the Majority Chair of the Committee.