New York City jail inmates will soon be able to make calls for free. Lawmakers passed the Intro 741-A bill that allows the city to become the first to de-commercialize prison phone use — and possibly set a national precedent.
The New York City Council passed the measure Wednesday, July 18, but Mayor Bill de Blasio will have to approve it, said CW affiliate PIX 11. A significant number of inmates — just under 10,000 — will be affected by the measure if it is given the green light by de Blasio.
“Families and friends of incarcerated individuals should not have to choose between hearing from their loved ones and paying their bills just because these individuals cannot afford to pay for phone calls,” NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who sponsored the bill, said. “Introduction 741-A will guarantee that individuals who are in custody in our jails do not have to pay to stay in touch with the people who support them and ensure the City does not make any money off these phone calls.”
Most who pay for calls from incarcerated family and friends will likely agree with the decision, as they will collectively save more than $8 million annually, according to the Corrections Accountability Project, an initiative of the NYC-based nonprofit Urban Justice Center focused on ending the exploitation of prisoners.
The biggest question about the measure may be whether it will inspire change in more correctional systems nationwide. There has been a resurgence in advocacy for prison reform in recent months — from popular support over releasing rapper Meek Mill from behind bars in April to civil rights organizations urging Congress to include jail sentencing changes as part of the White House-supported legislation termed the First Step Act.
Several reforms — including limits on solitary confinement, providing college education in prisons and assistance for particularly vulnerable populations behind bars — were made last year, according to a report from the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice.