With Senate Bill 972, Connecticut's legislature has a chance to make sure that people who are incarcerated and their loved ones can stay connected through free prison phone calls. On March 22, Smart Justice leader Brian Sullivan testified before the Judiciary Committee to tell the commitee members to pass that bill into law. Here is what he said:
"Senator Winfield, Representative Stafstrom, Ranking Members Kissel and Fishbein, and distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee:
I went many years without being able to speak to them because the cost was too high. Having been a facilitator for programs in the different facilities I was kept in I can tell you firsthand that communication with outside family and friends is the number one thing that promotes good behavior inside and prevent recidivism upon release.
My name is Brian K. Sullivan and I am a Leader with the ACLU Smart Justice Campaign of Connecticut. I am testifying today in support of Senate Bill 972, An Act Concerning the Cost of Telecommunication Services in Correctional Facilities. I am a father of four, and someone who has spent more than 20 years in prison.
When I was originally sentenced in 1997, I didn’t have a lot of hope that I would ever come home. I developed a program inside called CHAMPS, which stands for Creating Healthy Attitudes in Men from Prison to Society. It is designed to help people understand the WHY behind our poor choices and bad decisions, and to connect individuals directly with the resources available to help reduce the recidivism rate in our state. A critical step in this program is developing a plan for an area and network: Where do I plan to live? And who’s in my corner for support? I tried the best I could to surround myself with positive people because positive energy is contagious, but the reality is that prison can be a challenging environment to not just survive, but to maintain hope and believe that the decision to change the direction of my life was going to result in an opportunity to gain my freedom and be in society once again.
For people who are incarcerated, being able to maintain family and community bonds is crucial to mental health, physical health, community health and community safety. This may seem obvious, but these societal benefits should not be borne by the most vulnerable people in our communities. Yet Connecticut has not just expected the loved ones of incarcerated people to bear the exorbitant cost of maintaining relationships, but has also profited off of that separation. Senate Bill 972 seeks to correct this injustice.
The hidden costs of incarceration to the families of a person who is locked up includes commissary costs, costs associated with visitation, legal costs, sometimes the cost of housing a person, and of course, costs for telecommunication. A short prison phone call in Connecticut costs an outrageous amount of money: $3.45 for 15 minutes. This rate makes Connecticut dead-last in the entire county for the affordability of prison phone calls.
Even though these families and communities are footing the bill, our entire state reaps the benefits of these social connections. Good communication throughout incarceration makes people less likely to recidivate, but that should not be from the transfer of money from the families of incarcerated people to the state of Connecticut and a private telecom company. It really should be Connecticut paying itself as an investment in the health of its communities.
I am sure this committee is well aware of the numbers when it comes to what the cost is to families of incarcerated individuals I want to compare the revenue this state makes to what it spends individually each year on incarceration.
According to Worth Rises, the state takes in some 7 million dollars a year from Securus for allowing them to operate phone calls in our correctional facilities. At first glance this may seem like a win to those that do not further look at the impact and long-term cost to our state, communities, and citizens.
Having spent 31 calendar years in a cell I can tell you one of the only things I had to look forward to was talking to my family and friends. I went many years without being able to speak to them because the cost was too high. Having been a facilitator for programs in the different facilities I was kept in I can tell you firsthand that communication with outside family and friends is the number one thing that promotes good behavior inside and prevent recidivism upon release. Helping keep the bond together through communication of loved ones while they transition from home to prison and back home is key and essential for a successful reentry back into society.
I urge the members of this Committee to support Senate Bill 972 and the push to make prison phone calls free to the families who depend on them, and from the communities that benefit from them. Thank you for your time, and I welcome any questions you may have."