California Must Follow SF’s Lead on Jail Phone Fees, Commissary Mark-Ups

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

News from LCCR – SF Bay

June 13, 2019

Contact: Matt Kovac, mkovac@lccrsf.org, (415) 510-9601

California Must Follow SF’s Lead on Jail Phone Fees, Commissary Mark-Ups

New legislation aims to expand fines and fees victory to state and national level

SAN FRANCISCO – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR) welcomes yesterday’s announcement that San Francisco will become the first county in the nation to make all phone calls from the county jails free and end all county markups on commissary items. The announcement marks a major victory for the movement by incarcerated people and their loved ones to ease the financial consequences of incarceration.

It also builds momentum for statewide and national legislative reforms now under way, including California Senate Bill 555, authored by State Senator Mitchell, and the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2019, introduced in Congress earlier this week. The Lawyers’ Committee is a proud co-sponsor of SB 555 and has signed on in support of the federal bill.

“San Francisco is taking a big step in the right direction,” said Danica Rodarmel, LCCR’s Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow. “Private companies are preying on the love of people impacted by our vast criminal legal system, and it has to stop. Maintaining strong connections between incarcerated people and their loved ones is essential to supporting healthy communities and public safety.

“The larger problem is that the criminal legal system has become a catch-all for a myriad of issues we face in our society,” Rodarmel added. “We need to divest from this system and invest in community well-being through stronger social supports and an economy that allows all people to thrive.”

California currently has the seventh highest county jail phone rates in the country, with charges as high as $17.80 for a 15-minute call. Senate Bill 555, will lower the cost of phone calls, video visit technology, and other services in jails and juvenile lock-ups in California. SB 555 would also lower the cost of commissary items by ending county markups across the state.

The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2019, introduced by U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Representative Bobby Rush on Tuesday, would restore FCC authority to stop prison-phone companies from charging incarcerated people and their families predatory rates. A local 15-minute phone call can cost up to $25 in some states.

LCCR works to end fines and fees that push low-income people into poverty. This includes successfully campaigning to end drivers’ license suspensions over unpaid fines, advocating for towing policy reform, and launching a Consumer Bail Clinic to represent people trapped in debt by the bail bonds industry.

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