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Last minute push to get criminal justice reform bills across the finish line

HARTFORD — There’s a last minute push at the state Capitol to get some criminal justice reform bills voted on before time runs out.

But lawmakers are creating more. The House Speaker just said Tuesday they’ll likely be in session this weekend to get as many bills as they can passed. Supporters are hoping HB 6714 is one of them.

The bill would make prisoner phone calls free. Connecticut would be the 1st state to do that. Diane Lewis’ Son is in prison. She says it’s expensive.

“I go without lunch. I go without basic needs sometimes. I pay the phone bill first because my son is important to me and communication with my son is critical to my well-being,” she said.

Currently, Connecticut has the 2nd most expensive prison phone calls with a 15 minute call costing around $5. Rep. Josh Elliot, (D) Hamden said, “We’re saying to those 13,000 people in prison that we want you to maintain contact so that you have something to come back to.”

The state takes in around 14-million in annual revenue from prison phone calls, mostly from communities of color and poverty.

Rep. Vincent Candelora, (R) House Deputy Minority Leader said, “Given that we are seeing proposals to shift teacher retirement onto our towns, I’m not excited about voting for a bill to let prisoners have free phone calls.”

The free prisoner phone call bill hasn’t come up for a vote, but here’s one that will.

HB 7213 would give parolees the right to vote.

“We have about 4,000 people who are basically essentially out of the prison system but they don’t automatically have their rights restored to vote so what we are saying is for people who have served their time they ought to be part of the political system,” said Rep. Elliot.

Current state statute only allows those on probation to have full voting rights.

“We heard about early voting at the beginning of session, this bill is now going to establish late voting. We don’t even know when the polls would officially close anymore if this was passed into law,” said Rep. Candelora.

When it comes to free prisoner phone calls, the company that provides the service to Connecticut has agreed to renegotiate a lower cost but supporters of the bill say it’s not good enough.

They are calling on the Governor to get behind the bill, which might not make it across the finish line in time to become law this session.

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