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NYC passes bill to make phone calls free for inmates in city jails

NEW YORK — Inmates in New York City jails will soon be able to make phone calls for free.

The New York City Council approved the bill — sponsored by Speaker Corey Johnson —Wednesday and it now heads to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s desk for his signature. The just under 10,000 people incarcerated in Rikers and other city jails currently pay to make calls to friends and loved ones.

“Families and friends of incarcerated individuals should not have to choose between hearing from their loved ones and paying their bills just because these individuals cannot afford to pay for phone calls,” Johnson said. “Introduction 741-A will guarantee that individuals who are in custody in our jails do not have to pay to stay in touch with the people who support them and ensure the City does not make any money off these phone calls.”

The city’s phone system for jails is run by Securus.

Former City Council member David Greenfield applauded the decision on Twitter and noted the story of a mom forced to sell her food stamps so her children could call their father, who was incarcerated in Rikers.

The legislation will save impacted families approximately $8 million every year, according to Brooklyn Defender Services, a legal organization that’s advocated for the free calls.

“Thousands of people in NYC jails are there solely because a court set money bail beyond what they could afford, 88 percent are Black and/or Latinx, and nearly all experience deep poverty,” the organization wrote in a statement on Facebook. “Now, they will be able to maintain crucial lifelines to loved ones in the community without sacrificing scarce dollars for the profits of jail profiteer Securus.”