On January 1, 2018, a new bill took effect in Illinois cutting by half the cost of phone calls from prison. Families with an incarcerated loved one are already seeing their phone bills drop.
The Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (UCIMC), a MAG-Net anchor member, forwarded the bill that was sponsored by State Representative Carol Ammons. HB6200, the Family Connections Bill, was passed in mid-2016 with bi-partisan support.
Previously, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) was collecting $12 million a year in commissions from phone calls, the highest in the country. The bill, which caps rates at seven cents a minute, will ween the IDOC off profiting from those incarcerated. A four-dollar phone call now costs about two dollars.
“I am proud,” Ammons said, “to sponsor a bill that ensures profit does not take precedence over basic human dignity.”
Wandjell Harvey-Robinson, of Champaign, IL saw her parents go to prison when she was in the third grade, and grew up talking to them on the phone. She told her story before legislators in Springfield, Illinois to convince them to pass the bill. Wandjell reacted to the new rates: “I’m elated with the joy this victory brings to families who might be burdened with the expenses of phone calls from a loved one who is incarcerated. We must work together to make policies that help these families―they are a part of our community!”
Wandjell and UCIMC joined other MAG-Net members in 2015 to lobby the FCC when it passed sweeping legislation of the prison phone industry, rules that have since been reversed.
While other states like New York and Ohio have rates of five cents a minute, this bill sets an important precedent. Brian Dolinar, UCIMC Program Director, said, “The campaign for prison phone justice in Illinois shows that state reform is possible even as we see the rollback of industry regulations by the FCC under Trump.”
A second bill in Illinois, HB2738, the Protect Prison Visits Bill, establishing standards for video visitation in prisons, also took effect on January 1, 2018. It was another collaboration between UCIMC and St. Rep. Carol Ammons.
MAG-Net continues to work with national partners in the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice to provide regular and affordable communication between those incarcerated and their families.