Demonstrators demand free phone calls for inmates

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WLNE) – Demonstrators, rallying in downtown New Bedford, were calling for free phone calls for inmates and their families on Saturday.

About two dozen demonstrators were carrying signs and waving to motorists.

Protesters accused Sheriff Thomas Hodgson of taking advantage of inmates and their families, who end up paying more than the average customer would pay for a phone call.

“You’ve seen as high as $5 to $10; depending,” Rafael Pizarro, with Bristol County for Correctional Justice, said.

The group wanted state lawmakers to pass S. 2846, which would make phone calls free for inmates and their families.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the average cost for a 15-minute call in Massachusetts is $4.22.

“Keeping connected with your children, with your mom or whatever it might be, is key to keeping you integrated into society and to make you a constructive member of society,” Pizarro said.

But, Sheriff Hodgson said there was simple solution.

“The simple answer is don’t come to jail. OK, there’s a cost for it. We don’t want to have to build infrastructures, but we have to have it if we’re going to have a phone system,” Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said.

Hodgson said the cost for the phone system included security upgrades to try and keep inmates from using the phone to commit crimes, like scheming to get drugs into the jail, and he said that burden should not fall on the taxpayers.

“The taxpayers are already paying for it. They’re paying for the cost of them being here at $30,000 to $35,000 a year,” Sheriff Hodgson said.

But, Pizarro said, the cost would be far greater for taxpayers, if those inmates ended up back in jail.

“He or she is going to come out with feeling isolated, feeling that they have no support in the community, Pizarro said.

As of Saturday, inmates still received a free call a week due to COVID visitation limitations. Sheriff Hodgson also suggested that inmates utilize jail-provided writing materials to send their families letters.

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