Testimony in Support of SB 1098 – Capping the Cost of Phone Calls for Incarcerated Individuals

Date: January 29th, 2024

To: Sen. Leutkemeyer, Chairman, and Members of the Senate Judiciary and Civil and 

Criminal Jurisprudence Committee

From: Gwen Smith, Criminal Justice Policy Manager, Empower Missouri

RE: Support for SB 1098

Founded in 1901, Empower Missouri advocates for the well-being of Missourians through civic leadership, education, and research. As part of our work, we organize a statewide Community Justice Coalition with the goal of decreasing recidivism, decreasing the prison population, and decreasing Missouri’s criminal justice costs all while ensuring our communities are safe.

It is imperative that incarcerated individuals are able to stay in communication with their loved ones while they are serving their sentences. Many individuals who are incarcerated have pre-existing mental health conditions, and even those who don’t can suffer great consequences to their mental health brought on by isolation. Maintaining a connection with family fosters a sense of hope, encourages good behavior, and helps maintain important parental and other familial bonds. Incarcerated individuals who maintain strong family ties have an easier time transitioning home and are more likely to succeed during re-entry, benefiting themselves, their families, and their community.

SB 1098, sponsored by Senator Steve Roberts, would cap the cost of domestic phone calls in prisons at 12 cents per minute, the cost of calls in jails with average daily populations of more than 1000 inmates at 14 cents per minute, and the cost of calls in jails with average daily populations of fewer than 1000 inmates at 21 cents per minute. Based on these rates, the cost of a 15 minute phone call would be capped at $1.80, $2.10, and $3.15, respectively. 

On average, a 15-minute phone call in a correctional facility costs $5.74, while some prisons are charging $1 or more per minute. One study found that more than a third of families with incarcerated relatives went into debt over the costs of staying in touch with their loved ones. Many of these families are already suffering financially from missing a wage earner from the household– they should not go further into debt in order to fulfill a basic human need for connection.

Meanwhile, the high costs of phone calls in jails and prisons generates $1.4B per year for the correctional telecommunications sector. SB 1098 provides an important profit cap for these businesses while protecting access to an essential service for incarcerated individuals and their families. We urge this committee to vote yes on this bill.

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