Phone calls to her son cost thousands of dollars in the 14 years he was in prison, but Diane Lewis felt she needed to make sure he was safe.

“He was 17 when he first went to prison, so I had to speak to him very regularly,” said Lewis of her son Jovaan Lumpkin, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit first degree assault in 2004, down from one Attempted murder charges.

“When your child is in jail, you want to talk to them every day just to see if they’re still alive,” she said. “It could get expensive; you juggle it around. Sometimes the lights went out. Sometimes the gas went out. “

But the law, signed by Governor Ned Lamont on June 16, will call prisoners for free will bring peace of mind to Lewis and other family members of prisoners without incurring an enormous financial burden. The law also allows prisoners up to 90 minutes of phone time per day. But the law, which goes into effect July 1, 2022, will also increase the likelihood of those incarcerated successfully returning to society after their release, proponents say.

Connecticut becomes the first state to phone inmates and their families to jail for free; New York City made free calls from city jails in 2019. The state, which charges up to $ 5 for a 15-minute phone call, has a contract with Securus Technologies from Dallas. According to Securus, Securus makes about $ 7 million a year and Connecticut keeps $ 6 million CT News Junkie.

Karen Martucci, spokeswoman for the state law enforcement agency, said in a statement emailed that the agency expects “phone use to increase with the new guidelines within the recently passed legislation.

“We plan to overhaul operations to allow maximum phone access,” she said.

“Commissioner (Angel) Quiros and the correctional facility support efforts to keep detainees in contact with their families,” Martucci said. “We recognize family reunification as a factor that leads to a successful transition into the community.”

‘Connected’

Lewis, who lives in Hartford, said her son was allowed to make four calls a day, “and we basically got those four calls. As a mom, when your teenage girl who hasn’t even graduated from high school is in jail, you’ll want to talk to your child. It is at its lowest point and you have to support it. “

Over the years, Lewis said she had spent “tens of thousands” of dollars calling Lumpkin. “I wanted to make sure he wasn’t going crazy,” said Lewis.

“It’s not just the money,” she said. “Having your family member in jail and connected to the family will lower the relapse rate.” Staying in touch meant that after his release, Lumpkin knew of family members who died or were born while in custody.

“For me it was everything, because sometimes you just need this escape when there’s a lot of chaos around you,” said Lumpkin. “I was fortunate that I could almost always use the phone whenever I wanted.”

“When I got back it wasn’t that overwhelming because the phone calls kept me in touch with reality per se,” he said. “I didn’t have to be a prisoner 100 percent of the time. I could be a normal person. “

He said opponents of the bill have raised concerns that the free calls would lead to long lines and fights over the phones. Quiros testified that additional phone lines will likely need to be installed. But Lumpkin said concerns about inmates struggling for phone time were not justified.

When he was in prison, Lumpkin said: “I noticed that people who made a lot of phone calls or were visited often stayed out of trouble so as not to lose these privileges.” He said that if he was told to call on Thursday and his son would call, “it is easier for me to avoid trouble, go on the phone.”

“My lifeline for him”

Rahisha Bivens is a restorer for her brother Joshua Stanley, who spent three years in custody, sentenced to prison, and “spent up to 21 hours a day in his cell with the general population,” she said.

Joshua Stanley and his sister Rahisha Bivens on the day he was released from prison in January.

Contributed photo

Stanley, who advocated first-degree assault under the Alford Doctrine to reduce his sentence, said it was “very important” to have contact with his family and said his sister could not have stood up for him without it can make calls. “I had to speak to my sister to find out what the plan was,” he said.

Bivens said it was important to speak to her brother to stand up for him and reduce his sentence. An Alford plea means that the accused does not admit guilt, but admits that the state likely has enough evidence to convict him.

“When I didn’t speak to them for months, I was in a bad mood all the time,” said Stanley. “I got into a lot of arguments, felt lost. … It really helps to have support and just love. You have this love when you are in prison. You don’t feel like the road is over. [It’s] as if there were light at the end of the tunnel. “

“He knew he was empowered. He knew he was loved, ”said Bivens, organizer of the prison reform organization Stop Solitary. “It was just a lifeline to make sure he didn’t give up hope and was loved, that he was treated and cared for.”

Stanley has several mental health issues, and Bivens said the days when she couldn’t speak to her brother were “definitely scary for me and for him. There were moments when he could have become hopeless. “

She said that while calls cost $ 100 every few weeks, family members could “pool money. We could afford it. “

However, she said, “If the phone calls hadn’t been so high, we could have saved the money for his return to the community. We no longer have that to redirect to other resources. “

Joshua Stanley

Contributed photo

Bivens said prisoners should be recognized as people with life and families, not just people who broke the law. Many are in custody like their brother.

“My brother was in college before he was arrested,” Bivens said. “He’s had a whole life and I think people forget that. You have potential. If people fail to maintain this connection with mental health, it can get really ugly for people and their wellbeing. “

Charging phone calls means that “you are burdening their loved ones financially … who already have enough burden”. Many are low-income families and people of color, Bivens said.

“An expensive experience”

Jacqueline James, a former New Haven alder, once had a brother in jail and said the cost of socializing was a burden. “My parents, who have a steady income, wanted to be there for their child in every possible way,” she says. “If you’ve been on the phone every day for a year, it’s eight, nine, ten thousand dollars.”

James said she also has friends in prison that she speaks to. “It’s just a costly experience,” she said. “When you talk about the process of keeping people connected, the state has done a really bad job.”

She pointed out that Securus is a private company that benefits from several prison communication platforms.

“You do video technology. They make phones. They make debit cards, ”she said. “It’s a prison communications company specifically.”

Securus, which has held the State Treaty since 2012, did not respond to a request for comment.

edward.stannard@hearstmediact.com; 203-680-9382