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Free calls: Inmates at all Mass prisons can now connect to the outside world at no cost to them

BOSTON — Inmates at 14 state prisons in Massachusetts now have access to free phone calls under a change in policy that went into effect Friday, with an estimated taxpayer cost of nearly $20 million.

“Strong family support helps to advance the rehabilitative process, reduces recidivism, and contributes to successful reentry upon release.” said DOC Commissioner Carol Mici.

Previously, an inmate or the person receiving the call from an inmate would pay for calls and DOC says there is no cap on the number calls an inmate can make.

Boston 25 News reached out to DOC for the estimated annual cost of the program and how it is funded.

“We estimate this DOC change will cost $18.5 million over the course of a year,” according to a spokesperson. “The exact funding mechanism from the state budget is subject to how the Legislature appropriates funds.”

In FY23, the Legislature created the Communication Trust Fund, for the purpose of funding this program statewide and appropriated $20 million.

“Any cost beyond the Trust will fall to each agency,” according to a spokesperson.

The Department of Correction said it anticipates having to purchase more wall phones for the state prisons. DOC says Massachusetts is the fifth state in the country to provide free calls for inmates.

The state also says all pre-paid accounts previously used to pay for phone calls that have a credit balance as of Friday will be refunded to the inmates or others listed on on the accounts.

The law allowing for the free calls was signed by Governor Maura Healey on November 15th.

“The Massachusetts Department of Correction recognizes the importance of incarcerated individuals maintaining bonds with their loved ones.” said Mici. “No cost calls will alleviate the financial burden and remove barriers for an individual in MA DOC custody to stay connected with their outside support system.”

The DOC has published a FAQ to provide families and loved ones with more information about the implementation of the initiative.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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