If you’re an inmate in California and you want to be able to talk to your friends and family, it’s going to cost you money. Shockingly, there is not much — cough, none, cough — competition in California’s jails and prisons when it comes to an inmate choosing what company to use to place a call to their family. Prices for calls are very high.
There are two reasons why these high prices matter. First, the family of an inmate can go into debt. More often than not, the families who do go into this kind of debt are already living with precarious finances. Punishing the family of an inmate makes no sense. Second, if the price is too high and the aforementioned debt is incurred, at some point the family members can no longer afford to incur it. For example, they can’t borrow any more money and the calls to the inmate have to stop.
Now, some of you might be thinking that there’s nothing wrong with this. The inmate committed a crime after all and they need to suffer hardship for it. Looking at it from the perspective of making inmates suffer or not suffer misses the point, I think. There’s a more universal conclusion that I think we should all be able to get behind: reducing the occurrence of crime is a good thing so that fewer people get murdered, fewer cars get broken into, and fewer grams of cocaine or methamphetamine get sold.
Having the support of family and friends makes it easier to accomplish almost anything in life. I’d say that includes inmate recidivism. Put plainly, an inmate who has a good support network of family and friends is less likely to commit crime again. Recognizing that there are no guarantees, of course, an inmate’s ability to maintain contact with friends and family is, therefore, very important.
Recognizing the important of maintaining close contact with friends and family and recognizing that the high cost of calls under the current system are counterproductive to reducing recidivism, California’s Legislature passed Senate Bill 1008 *”SB 1008″) in the fall of 2022. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed it into law which took effect January 1, 2023. SB 1008 made two main additions to California’s statutes, the result of which were to make calls to and from inmates free.
The first addition was Section 2084.5 of California’s Penal Code which states:
“(a) A state prison or youth residential placement or detention center operated by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shall provide persons in their custody and confined in a correctional or detention facility with accessible, functional voice communication services free of charge to the person initiating and the person receiving the communication. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shall have operational discretion in implementing this subdivision such that free voice communication services do not interfere with necessary programming.
(b) A state agency shall not receive revenue from the provision of voice communication services or any other communication services to a person confined in a state correctional or detention facility.”
As usual, I want to mention a few points that drew my interest.
- The first is that Section 2084.5 applies only to a “state prison or youth residential placement or detention center operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation” (CDCR). If you’re incarcerated at a county jail instead, you’re out of luck.
- The second is that CDCR shall have discretion in implementing Section 2084.5. Only time will tell how likely the average inmate in CDCR’s custody will actually have access to free “voice communication services”.
- The third point is that state agencies — in other words, not just CDCR — are forbidden from profiting off of providing voice communications services to inmates.
The second addition SB 1008 made to California law was the creation of Section 208.1 of California’s Welfare and Institution’s Code. Section 208.1 states:
(a) A county or city youth residential placement or detention center shall provide persons in their custody with accessible, functional voice communication services free of charge to the person initiating and the person receiving the communication.
(b) A county or city agency shall not receive revenue from the provision of voice communication services or any other communication services to any person confined in a county or city youth residential placement or detention center.
A couple of points to note here:
- First, Section 208.1 applies specifically to minors in a county or city-run “youth residential placement or detention center”. If you look, you’ll find that Section 208.1 is in Division 2 of the Welfare and Institutions Code which is entitled “CHILDREN”.
- Second, as before, no city or county agency shall profit off of providing voice communication services to persons being held at a youth residential placement or detention center being run by a county or city. However, Section 208.1(b) goes further than Section 2084.5(b) does and actually forbids city and county agencies from profiting off of **any** communication service that is provided to a person being held at a county or city-run youth residential placement or detention center.
As always, this post was meant to be just a basic survey of the law or statute in question. If you have a situation where you need to rely on any of the information I’ve described above, please do your own research and double-check the things I have mentioned above. I’ve included links above to help you with that research.
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