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A compromise effort on prison phone calls is moving forward

Prison razor wire
Steve Helber
Razor wire surrounds a prison facility.

Members of the General Assembly are debating a bill that would help people who are incarcerated stay connected to their families and their communities.

Advocates for people incarcerated in Virginia prisons say it should not be a financial burden for them to stay in touch with their families. And that many families cannot afford to pay the rates that are arranged in lucrative contracts with telecommunications companies.

Some Democrats were calling for free telephone calls, but Republican Delegate Nick Freitas of Virginia Beach says his colleagues don't want taxpayers paying that phone bill.

"I hope we're all in agreement it shouldn't be excessive," Freitas says. "I know, at least on this side, we're very concerned about the idea of shifting the burden of paying for it on to taxpayers."

Now lawmakers are moving forward with a compromise effort introduced by Senator Jennifer Boysko, a Democrat from Herndon.

"What this does is asks for some oversight by the General Assembly, which our taxpayer dollars are paying for, and it provides some funding to help lower the cost," Boysko explains.

The current version of the bill does not mandate free telephone calls, but it does provide some oversight over hose lucrative telecommunications contracts. The bill calls for members of the General Assembly to take a look at those contracts to make sure people behind bars are not being hit with outrageous fees in order to talk to loved ones over the phone.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.