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San Francisco jail reforms include free calls for inmates

San Francisco has become the first county in the nation to offer free phone calls for inmates.

Mayor London Breed (D) announced Monday that the move means the county will “stop generating revenue from incarcerated people and their families.”

“When people are in jail they need to be able to stay connected with their family without being concerned about how much it will cost them or their loved ones,” Breed said. “Being able to stay in touch with family is always important, but it is even more critical during a health emergency like COVID-19.”

Rather than paying the vendor per call-minute as families have been doing, Breed said that under a new contract with Global Tel Link, a jail phone service contractor, the city will pay the vendor a fixed monthly rate per phone device.

Incarcerated individuals and their families paid more than $1 million for phone calls from San Francisco jails in 2018.

“This change is an important continuation of our efforts to reform fines and fees that disproportionately impact low-income people and communities of color,” Breed said. 

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Markups for phone calls and commissary items have allowed jails and prisons nationwide to boost revenue. Cities like New York have taken similar steps to eliminate charges for inmate calls, but San Francisco is the first county to make those changes.

The elimination of phone call charges in San Francisco comes on the heels of other changes to reduce costs for inmates. In April, the county reduced the cost of commissary items like reading glasses, deodorant and shoes, with prices dropping an average of 43 percent, according to Breed.

Tags California jails New York phone calls San Francisco

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