CONNECTICUT LEGISLATURE FAILS TO PASS FREE PRISON PHONE CALLS BILL, BUT PROMISES TO PRIORITIZE FOR 2020

HARTFORD, CT — In a disappointing end to Connecticut’s legislative session, lawmakers opted to table the groundbreaking criminal justice bill, House Bill 6714 (H.B. 6714), for next year’s session.

Introduced by Rep. Josh Elliott (D-Hamden), the bill would allow Connecticut residents to communicate with their incarcerated loved ones at no cost, prevent the state from collecting kickbacks on prison communication, and protect in-person visits for incarcerated people and their loved ones.

Bianca Tylek, Executive Director of Worth Rises, expressed dismay at the legislature failing to vote on the bill, but optimism for next year: “Of course we’re disappointed that the vote on our bill was postponed, but importantly, it didn’t die on its merits. The bill failed because the omnibus vehicle carrying it failed in broader negotiations. We had the votes to pass it as a standalone bill, but we ran out of time given filibuster risks on the last eve of the legislative session. It’s frustrating, but it gives us hope as we continue to fight, and we will.  

“Connecticut had the dubious distinction of ranking 49th out of 50 states nationwide in the affordability of a prison phone call. H.B. 6714 offered the broadest and most comprehensive protection of prison communication in the country. It recognized that keeping incarcerated people connected to their families and support systems is an unalloyed good that centers humanity.

“Securus Technologies, the corporation that makes millions every year off of incarcerated people and their support networks, spent tens of thousands of dollars lobbying against H.B. 6714, but we fought back. We pushed Securus to publish a letter withdrawing its opposition to the bill and then spent weeks unwinding the threats and falsehoods it used to poison the well.

“We made sure Connecticut lawmakers heard the voices of the people directly impacted by exorbitant prison phone rates, both those behind bars and those supporting them on the outside. There were in-person conversations had, phone calls made, and letters sent. They saw parents fight for their children and children fight for their parents unapologetically. Many elected officials came to understand that strengthening the lifeline between people behind bars and their support systems outside is a moral duty and practical need. Even our opponents admitted that it is grossly unfair for Connecticut to profit from Securus’s exploitive kickback model.

“As a result of our fight, Connecticut has begun renegotiating its contract with Securus to drive rates down. So, while we continue the push for free phone calls in the next session, phone calls will be more affordable in the near term.

“We’re so honored to have worked alongside dedicated legislators and advocates, including many directly impacted community members, to move this bill forward and make the harm that it addresses a local and national issue. We extend special thanks to Rep. Josh Elliott and the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus for their championship of this bill. In a single session, we managed to get a bill to make prison phone calls free introduced, heard, voted out of two committees, and called to the floor. And though he tabled a final vote, on the floor, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter committed to prioritizing this bill in 2020 in order to still meet the 2021 effective date of the bill. We’ll be back in 2020 and we will hold leadership to that commitment.” 

Worth Rises is a national advocacy organization dedicated to dismantling the prison industrial complex and eliminating the exploitation of those it touches.

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