Op-Ed: Why phone calls from prison should be free

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Angel Rice’s second job is unpaid, and the hours stink. They start at 6 a.m. when she checks her phone for messages that have come in overnight from women who are struggling to support a family member locked up in a California state prison.

Nothing they can ask would surprise Rice, whose own husband is incarcerated in Imperial County, 150 miles from her Rancho Cucamonga home. But with regularity, their questions boil down to the stress of paying to stay connected with a loved one inside. “I’m going into debt to keep my children in touch with their father,” they might say. “But I have to keep my family connected. What am I going to do?”

It’s a dilemma that led Rice and Abby Salim, whose husband is incarcerated in Marin County, to found Empowering Women Impacted by Incarceration — an all-volunteer network of thousands of California women helping each other in the struggle to support incarcerated loved ones. And it’s why the group, along with other such organizations, is going all out to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign the Keep Families Connected Act, Senate Bill 1008, authored by state Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park).

The bill would make all prison phone calls free. If Newsom wants to lift a burden off some of the most vulnerable families in our state, it’s hard to imagine legislation that would deliver a bigger impact at a lower cost.

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