Va. House panel rejects bills to boost prison oversight, give inmates free phone calls
Proposal for prison ombudsman office defeated after passing Senate unanimously
A Republican-led committee in the House of Delegates voted Monday to reject two prison reform bills, one that would have created an independent ombudsman office to provide extra oversight and another that would have given inmates access to free phone calls and emails to allow them to better communicate with the outside world.
The House Appropriations Committee blocked both measures with little discussion after a Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) representative said the agencies opposed the proposals due to cost concerns. Senate Democrats had included funding for both bills in that chamber’s version of the state budget that’s supposed to be finalized before the legislature adjourns Feb. 25.
Prison reform advocates have led a multiyear push to restrict prison and jail administrators from charging excessive fees for goods and services inmates and their family members purchase. Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Loudoun, had zeroed in on communication-related fees only in state prisons, introducing a bill that would require the state to provide the services “free of charge.”
“Making communications free or reduced is the most cost-effective rehabilitation program the commonwealth could implement,” Boysko told the committee, saying the often low-income families of incarcerated people shouldn’t be expected to shoulder most of the cost of something she said benefits the state as a whole.
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