While Dominique Vodicka was incarcerated, she met people in prison who couldn’t afford to make phone calls to their family members.
“I saw firsthand the sadness,” she said.
Vodicka is now a peer support specialist with The Reentry Initiative, a Longmont organization that’s dedicated to helping people after incarceration. She mentors young women, some of whom don’t have the financial means to connect with their loved ones — calls to and from Colorado state prisons cost 8 cents a minute.
“The 8 cents a minute can really add up, especially when families are taking care of the inmate on the inside and maybe their children on the outside,” Vodicka explained. “A lot of those family members are maybe on a fixed income, such as their elderly parents.”
The Reentry Initiative is backing proposed legislation that would eliminate the cost of phone calls for people incarcerated in state prisons.
Those who are incarcerated receive around $5.50 a month, which they need to spend on personal hygiene products, Vodicka said. Some people work in the prison kitchens and earn less than $20 a month. Once basic personal supplies are purchased, often little is left over to pay for phone calls, she explained.
“Staying connected is so important. Especially with your children,” Vodicka said. “People on the outside worry about what's going on the inside, you hear all kinds of crazy stories. It's actually pretty traumatizing. For people to do well on the inside, they really need family support.”
The families and children of those who are incarcerated shouldn’t have to suffer, she said.
“Kids do not know any better, they may know their parent is on time out, but not hearing from them could make a child feel abandoned,” Vodicka explained.
Those incarcerated in Colorado state prisons — and their families — paid $7.7 million for phone calls in 2022, according to Department of Corrections data.
HB23-1133 passed the House Judiciary Committee in February with an 8-4 vote, and nobody testified against the bill.
“I decided to sponsor this bill because I am interested in criminal justice reforms that make our system more humane while also increasing public safety,” said Rep. Judy Amabile (D - Boulder). “When people who are in custody can stay in contact with their loved ones and community, we see improved outcomes in terms of recidivism, public safety and decreased generational harm.”
The bill’s sponsors are working with the Department of Corrections to figure out how to pay for the legislation, which would cost around $4 million each year, according to a fiscal note.
The state’s Department of Corrections uses the company ViaPath Technologies to pay for its phone and video calls in prisons. The company provides security and call monitoring services at no cost to the state department, and in return, the company keeps the revenue from prison calls. In addition, ViaPath pays the state $800,000 to employ staff who oversee the prison communication systems.
The bill is headed to the House Appropriations Committee, but a date for the next hearing has not yet been set.