Budget conference: Senate wants expansion of prison phone calls program

Florida Prison 1
The Legislature last year started awarding inmates free calls based on good behavior.

Calls home to family can offer the incarcerated a lifeline to the outside world. Now, the Senate wants more opportunities for prisoners to earn phone time for good behavior.

The latest offer from the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee budgets $2 million to a phone call savings pilot program for prison inmates’ families.

The Department of Corrections last year launched a pilot program that would make a limited number of phone calls free and to dole those out to inmates demonstrating good behavior.

Under the program, incarcerated individuals who don’t receive a disciplinary report for three months could be eligible for a free 15-minute phone call, according to coverage in the Orlando Sentinel when it launched.

The state last year budgeted $1 million for the program, and the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee had that much in its last budget offer. But Senators hope to double the amount of money allocated.

Of note, phone calls from Florida prisons are made collect, meaning the families receiving calls from inmates must cover the cost. Typically, those calls cost 13.5 cents per minute. The state’s communications provider does provide inmates with two free five-minute calls each month, but the pilot program allows inmates the chance to have another phone call each month that runs three times that length at no cost.

Of note, Alachua County last year began allowing free, unlimited calls from its county jail. That policy was proposed by a student group, the Florida Student Policy Forum, at the University of Florida, according to The Independent Florida Alligator.

The same organization has lobbied for the pilot program at Florida prisons and has supported that program’s expansion to something similar to the policy at the Alachua County Jail.

For now, support for the program continuing with at least its existing budget appears to exist in both chambers, with Senators looking for a rapid expansion.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • Dont Say FLA

    February 28, 2024 at 3:41 pm

    “Free calls for good behavior” sounds like the collect call rate per minute is fixing to be raised exponentially.

    It will of course be everyone’s own fault for having to pay the new collect call rate because if they had only behaved, they wouldn’t have to pay that.

    I predict an average of three free calls per month being awarded for “good behavior” while every other call pays the new, exponentially exorbitant collect call rate.

Comments are closed.


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