Families push for lower prison phone rates, more open visits

BOSTON (AP) — Families with loved ones behind bars are planning to gather at the Massachusetts Statehouse to press for lower prison phone rates and less restricted visits.

The families are planning to lobby lawmakers Wednesday in support of two bills they say are designed to improve prison and jail visitation policies.

Supporters say their goal is to strengthen parent-child relationships, reduce recidivism, enhance public safety, and build stronger communities.

The bills would make several changes to state law including rolling back limitations on the number of unique individuals allowed to visit a prisoner and ensuring no visitor is turned away on the basis of a dress code violation without consultation with a superintendent or shift commander.

“Children, parents, families, and so many others with incarcerated loved ones are facing an uphill battle to overcome extraordinary odds,” said Democratic state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz. “Incarceration can damage vital family ties and child development, and exacerbates chronic childhood poverty.”

Another backer of the changes — Democratic state Rep. Marjorie Decker — said the legislation would undo harsh changes to inmate visitation policies.

“It is confounding that Massachusetts has taken a step backwards in our inmate visitation policies when we know that the research is clear,” Decker said.

(Copyright (c) 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)