Rauner signs Ammons bill to cut inmates' phone costs

Rauner signs Ammons bill to cut inmates' phone costs

CHICAGO — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday signed legislation, sponsored by Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, that aims to reduce phone costs for people incarcerated in Illinois prisons.

The bill reduces the rate that the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice can contract for telephone providers.

The bill was one of five Rauner signed that he said would help reform Illinois' criminal justice system to focus on rehabilitation to reduce recidivism and help low-level offenders find a brighter future.

"We need to approach our criminal justice system with more compassion," said Rauner. "I want those who did something wrong to face punishment, but we must make sure that the punishment fits the crime. We need to explore new avenues so that we're balancing punishment with rehabilitation and not needlessly tearing families and lives apart."

HB 6200 will cap the cost of phone calls placed by inmates in the Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice. The state receives about $12 million each year from those commissions.

Under the legislation, starting Jan. 1, 2018, calls would be no more than 7 cents a minute, or 23 cents a minute for international calls.

Rauner signed the bill at North Lawndale Adult Transition Center in Chicago.

Ammons was present for the bill-signing.

"I am thrilled the governor sees the value of this legislation and is embracing the bipartisan support it has by signing it into law," Ammons said. "The Family Connections bill is more than just financial relief for families trying to maintain a relationship with their loved ones who are incarcerated. It is an example of the impact the Illinois General Assembly can have on criminal justice reform when we work together and with the support and cooperation of the governor's office."

The head of the state Department of Corrections, John Baldwin, said that Rauner "set out to make Illinois a more compassionate state and he is making good on that initiative. Today's bills will help ensure that we are giving young men and women a second chance at life. Instead of focusing on the past, we are attempting to rehabilitate people who have been incarcerated and create opportunities for low-level offenders to build a future."

Other bills signed Monday include:

— SB 3164 requires review of a presentencing report, as well as an explanation of why incarceration is appropriate for offenders with no prior probation sentences or prison convictions, prior to sentencing. Last year, nearly 60 percent of new prison admissions for Class 3 or 4 felonies had no prior convictions for violent crimes, the governor's office said.

— HB 6291 amends the Juvenile Court Act to change the minimum probation period for a youth-adjudicated delinquent. The purpose of the bill is to help bring Illinois in line with other states and the latest research by reducing mandatory minimum lengths of probation and treating low-level offenses with treatment.

— HB 5017 allows a juvenile to immediately petition the court for expungement when he or she is charged with an offense that is dismissed without a finding of delinquency. Under current law, the statute only allows for a petition of expungement when the youth has reached the age of 18.

— SB 3005 amends the Park District Code to provide that a park district shall not knowingly employ a person who has been convicted of specified drug offenses until seven years following the end of a sentence imposed including periods of supervision or probation. The previous law stated that park districts could not employ any person convicted of the specified drug offenses. It also scales back prohibitions on employment for convictions of public indecency to Class 4 felonies.

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Skepticity wrote on August 22, 2016 at 5:08 pm

The exorbitant phone charges discriminated against those whose families were of modest means who could not afford the calls, while allowing those whose families had money the ability to maintain connection to life outside of prison. This change is a good thing.  The high charges were unfair and counterproductive. 

Maintaining family ties while incarcerated is a means of promoting positive change in the inmates, and provides a reason for them to change behavior away from criminality when finally released.  When in prison and surrounded by those who have adopted the lifestyle, mentality, and behavior of crime, any motivation to change behavior should be nourished. 

People cannot rehabilitate themselves if they see no reason to try.  In prison they are surrounded by those who attempt to justify the behavior that resulted in their incarceration by citing their victimhood.  This results in the prisoners blaming others for their misdeeds and consequences rather than accepting personal responsibility and focusing on making changes in themselves. Contact with loved ones can motivate a prisoner to make efforts to change.  It is important that services supporting rehabilitation be available to those with the motivation to take advantage of such programs.  Programs cannot rehabilitate, but they can support and encourage positive change when the person seeks to reform. 

Activists often encourage prisoners to don the mantle of victimhood rather than to change themselves.  A belief in their victimhood is necessary to recruit others to the activists' class warfare based belief system.

The real victims are the victims of the crimes that lead to incarceration.