DARTMOUTH (WBSM) — Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux says he supports the decision by the legislature to make phone calls free for those in prison, county jails and houses of correction.

The Massachusetts House and Senate voted Monday on a measure making phone and video calls free of charge for incarcerated individuals.

The measure is part of the Fiscal Year 2024 budget bill that funds state agencies and programs until June 30, 2024.

Heroux, who served in the legislature as a state representative from 2013 to 2018, said he would have voted for the provision if he was still in the House.

He said connecting inmates with family and their community provides emotional support, leading to improved behavior and rehabilitation.

“I would have supported it if I was still in the legislature,” Heroux said. “It is a good thing to facilitate prisoner contact with family because it helps with prisoner re-entry.”

In 2022, the legislature passed a provision giving sheriffs, the Department of Correction, and the Department of Youth Services the opportunity for a $20 million reimbursement for telephone services.

Heroux and other sheriffs expressed concern that $20 million would not be enough to pay for prisoner services, particularly if there is no set limit on the number of calls an inmate can make.

“That $20 million would get eaten up relatively quickly,” Heroux said. “We don’t want a one-size-fits-all policy to how this is administered. Our jails have different cultures and different complications come from this.”

Heroux also said if minutes are not long enough, it could lead to inmates selling their time on the phone for other commodities.

“It becomes a management issue,” Heroux said. “On the flip side, if it becomes unlimited minutes, we're going to burn through that $20 million really quickly."

Supporters of no-cost calls have argued excessive charges are barriers to rehabilitation as it increases the feeling of isolation from the outside world, making it physically and emotionally difficult for incarcerated people to return to their family and community.

The Department of Corrections charges 12 cents per minute for one phone call.

Some county jails charge 14 cents per minute.

A 2006 paper by the Vera Institute of Justice found that phone calls and communication with family and friends improve inmate morale resulting in better behavior and rehabilitation.

If approved by Governor Maura Healey, Massachusetts would become the third state in the country to implement no-cost phone calls.

Healey has expressed support for no-cost calls in her budget proposal but suggested that there should be a 1,000-minute cap for inmates.

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