HB23-1133 or ‘Cost Of Phone Calls For Persons In Custody” was signed by Gov. Jared Polis June 7.
According to the bill summary, “the [Department of Corrections] shall provide voice penal communications services, and may supplement these services with other communication services, including video calls or electronic mail or messaging … to persons in DOC custody in a correctional facility or private prison in the state. In administering the penal communications services, the DOC is prohibited from receiving any revenue, including commissions or fees, and the penal communications services, excluding video calls or electronic mail or messaging, must be free of charge to the person initiating and the person receiving the call.”
The bill lays out a staggered implementation timeline. From Sept. 1 through June 30, 2024, the DOC will cover 25% of the total service costs; from July 1, 2024, through June 30, 2025, the DOC will cover 35% of the total service costs; and from July 1, 2025, and onward, the DOC will cover 100% of all service costs.
“The impetus for the bill was that there is a lot of data that suggests that if families can stay connected, they do better,” said Amabile. “The family that’s not incarcerated does better, the kids do better if there are kids involved. And the person who is incarcerated also does better and has a lower likelihood to recidivate.”
According to the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, Crime and Justice Statistics: Recidivism, “in 2020 Colorado probation defined 1) Pre-release recidivism as a deferred agreement, adjudication, or conviction for a misdemeanor or felony offense that occurred while the individual was under supervision. 2) Post-release recidivism was defined as a deferred agreement, adjudication, or conviction for a misdemeanor or felony offense that occurred within 1 year of release from supervision.”
To view real-world data, the Colorado Judicial Branch created the Colorado Probation Recidivism Study for the fiscal year 2021 for 2020 releases.
“And I would say data on recidivism is pretty tricky actually,” added Amabile. “[But] if we don’t do anything along the way to address whatever the potential underlying causes of criminal behavior were and … set people up for success when they leave, then they come back.”
Marshall felt the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 already took care of the mistreatment of prisoners and the price gouging of communication services.
“The original [HB23-1133] went much further in providing free internet, phone, video conferencing, etc. beyond that which those not being detained normally have free access,” wrote Marshall to Law Week via email.
“I thought that was inappropriate … but [I] wholeheartedly voted for the amended version [of HB23-1133] that came to the floor that focused back on the primary issue of ensuring telecommunications access for those detained/incarcerated.”
Republican Sen. Bob Gardner, who voted no during the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on May 1, wrote to Law Week via email he agrees that ensuring inmates have contact with their families is a good thing. He also voted no during the third reading of the bill in the Senate.
“At the same time, now that we have gotten the phone call costs to reasonable rates, I believe that it is not unreasonable for inmates and families to bear some of the cost of these calls,” added Gardner. “The bill, as it was written, requires DoC to pick up all of the cost of the calls in 2025. The bill will require DoC to provide unlimited calling to all inmates at no cost.”
“I think that the potential budget impact is greatly outweighed by the positive outcomes that are proven,” said Anaya Robinson, senior policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
“[The Colorado Department of Corrections] worked collaboratively with the bill sponsors through the legislative session to create a bill that will provide meaningful relief to inmates and families,” wrote Alondra Gonzalez, interim public information officer for DOC, to Law Week via email. “While providing a roadmap for the department to follow for implementing full coverage of phone calls for our population.”
The Colorado Department of Human Services, the bill notes, “in its role overseeing juvenile detention facilities, shall provide voice communications services, and may supplement these services with other communication services, including video calls or electronic mail or messaging, in those facilities and is prohibited from receiving any revenue from the communications services, including commissions or fees, and the communications services must be free of charge to the person initiating and the person receiving the call.”
“It was just quite frankly a little bit of forward-thinking,” said Anders Jacobson, director of the Colorado Division of Youth Services.
Jacobson, with 28 years working in the juvenile justice system, oversees 15 state-operated secure youth centers serving youth 10 to 21 years old; the juvenile detention system; and parole program services.
“It’s right for youth, it’s right for adults, and it’s right for the families that want to connect with them and stay in connection. And that’s valuable, and it’s something that we should absolutely make sure takes place,” said Jacobson. “[We’re] very excited about the passing of House Bill 1133.”