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Family Connections Bill Signed into Law in Illinois: While federal regulation is fought in court, states are making moves to cap prison phone call costs

Today, HB6200: The Family Connections Bill was signed into law, bringing immediate relief to families with a loved one incarcerated. The bill received bipartisan support, with advocates arguing that it will strengthen the bonds between those incarcerated and their loved ones, enable a person to transition back into society, and reduce recidivism.

The bill’s champion, State Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) says telephone calls placed by inmates in Illinois correctional facilities have been inflated; they cost the families of incarcerated individuals more than they can bear financially. Heeding the call from family members who say they have gone into debt to pay for calls, Ammons has been working to lower costs.

“I am thrilled the Governor sees the value of this legislation and is embracing the bipartisan support it has by signing it into law,” Ammons said. “The Family Connections bill is more than just financial relief for families trying to maintain a relationship with their loved ones who are incarcerated. It is an example of the impact the Illinois General Assembly can have on criminal justice reform when we work together and with the support and cooperation of the Governor’s office.”

“Children shouldn’t be told their love is too expensive,” shared Wandjell Harvey-Robinson, who grew up struggling to stay in contact with her parents who were both incarcerated and was present in Chicago for the signing today. “There are thousands of Illinois children whose lives will be dramatically improved by the actions today and, on their behalf, I say thank you.”

Under the measure, prison phone call rates will be cut in half, or a maximum of 7 cents per minute, starting January 1, 2018. This legislation comes on the heels of sweeping regulations passed last year by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Under industry pressure, the FCC recently voted to increase rate caps to 13 cents a minute for calls from all state and federal prisons. While the FCC gets challenged in court, states like Illinois and New Jersey, and others are moving forward to control the predatory practices of prison phone companies.

“This bill is a positive step toward criminal justice reform in Illinois. We are grateful for the chance to work together on finding solutions that benefit residents of Illinois who have a family member incarcerated,” said Brian Dolinar, Coordinator for the Illinois Champaign for Prison Phone Justice.

The Illinois Champaign for Prison Phone Justice is a project of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, a leader in the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), a local-to-local advocacy network of over 150 grassroots community organizations working together for digital access and rights to end poverty, eliminate racism, and ensure human rights: www.mag-net.org