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La Crosse County first in Wisconsin to offer free phone calls for incarcerated people

News8000.com | WKBT News 8
News8000.com | WKBT News 8
 2022-11-17

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LA CROSSE (WKBT) — This week, the La Crosse County board unanimously voted to drop the cost of a phone call for anyone in jail from 21 cents a minute to free.

This means La Crosse County jail will soon be the first in Wisconsin to offer free phone calls for incarcerated people.

For many, this small cost can make a big difference.

Human connection matters wherever you are.

“I would make phone calls and nobody would answer because they didn’t have money to answer the phone calls. I would not talk to anybody on the outside. And it drives us crazy,” said Jessica Beck.

For incarcerated people, that connection is vital. From past experiences, Jessica Beck and Chloe Seelig know that well.

“When you go to jail, usually whatever life you had built in that time of addiction falls apart. You lose whatever house, items, things that you own. Whatever you have, you’re going to lost it at that point,” Seelig said.

The 21 cent per minute charge may seem small, but it can add up.

People in jail seek that phone time to connect with resources and loved ones.

“Most of the calls are collect, meaning that the costs are actually paid by the families and the loved ones of incarcerated people, as opposed to the incarcerated person themselves,” said Wanda Bertram, who works with the Prison Policy Initiative.

Bertram says high costs for calls are not uncommon.

“Actually, one in three families with an incarcerated loved one go into debt because of the cost of staying in touch with those people,” Bertram said.

Soon, at least in La Crosse County, that won’t be the case.

County Supervisors Dillon Mader and David Pierce worked with a committee to create a budget amendment.

“We both felt at that time that the practices were unjust, and that they were unfairly punishing people that are in many ways the most vulnerable people in La Crosse County,” Mader said.

On Monday, the county board voted unanimously in favor of those free calls.

Beck says she is grateful the county is taking this step to help people.

“It would’ve helped me mentally. It would’ve helped with my anxiety. It would’ve helped me maybe get my things to people who I knew were going to keep them safe,” Beck said.

According to several studies , when incarcerated people stay connected with family, they are more likely to participate in programs and follow rules. This makes jails safer for staff.

It also reduces recidivism, or the likelihood someone will return to jail.

Pierce said giving incarcerated people the chance to communicate with family, and resources that can help them, are vital.

Mader agrees– noting that the cost of the amendment is a small price to pay for community support.

“$75,000 is a drop in the bucket, but again that drop in the bucket will affect maybe 2000 people, plus countless others,” Mader said.

The La Crosse County board believes that picking up the cost to connect will pay off.

Access to free calls will begin in January 2023 and will be available for a year under the current budget.

Pierce and Mader said they both hope to reintroduce it next year, and eventually make the benefit permanent.

Comments / 25

nell
11-17

this will only cause fights for the phones on the pods. they will be on the phones forever at least paying for the call limits the time on it. reduction of fees maybe but free calls is nuts. I'm sure the corrections officers and people that have to control this now are not happy about what these BOARD members have done.

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middie
11-17

So the "free" people of society have to pay their own phone bills or they get cut off. No wonder why people are crap today. It's easier to be crap than to be decent. Crappy people get free roof, free food, free education, now free phone rights 😂😂 Yup, pays to be bad. 😂😂I see jail/ prison as a protection program for criminals. Most are there because the real world is too much for them and they WANT to be there. It's safer. 😉

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