‘Stop profiting off our pain’: Hundreds rally to support bill eliminating charges for prison phone calls

BOSTON (WHDH) - Demonstrators and politicians rallied at the State House Saturday to support a bill that would ban charging families to call loved ones in prison.

“It’s overwhelming to pay $250 a month, just sending money in to him, so we can talk every day,” said Alice Gaskins, whose brother is in prison.

Advocates, who waved signs saying “Stop profiting off our pain” and “Phone justice = racial justice” at the rally, said private phone companies have been charging 40 to 50 cents a minute on prison phone calls for years.

Ayana Aubourg, whose father was Incarcerated, said her mother struggled to pay the family’s bills and pay for 20-minute phone calls split among herself and her three children. She said charges make it difficult for families to maintain their ties.

“I know how stressful it is to try to maintain contact so your children can have a loving relationship with their parent,” Aubourg said. “I would only get to speak to him for like 4-5 minutes, but that was really important because i was getting to know him.”

The bill would make it illegal to charge for a phone call in or out of prison, and state senators who are sponsoring it say it would cost about $20 million to $30 million dollars to cover costs, out of the $42 billion state budget. Senators said the damage expensive phone calls does to families is a bigger cost.

“Making it tough to keep in touch with their families is not something that’s pro-healing in the long run,” said State Sen. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont.

“This is an issue about helping prisoners get rehabilitated – it’s about improving the connection between loved ones and people who are incarcerated, and it’s a very big barrier for incarcerated people right now to stay in touch with their loved ones,” said State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton.

The bill is currently in the senate, and legislators said they’re hopefull it will pass before the session ends in December. Aubourg said she hopes passing the bill will let families keep in touch with each other.

“People who are incarcerated are still parenting behind bars,” Aubourg said. ‘They’re still part of our community and we deserve that right and that connection to our family members.”

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