Cabral on Jail Calls Amendment, Budget Wins for New Bedford
One of the most talked about issues in this year's budget debate on Beacon Hill was how the legislature would respond to the recent ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court that reaffirmed the county sheriffs departments' ability to raise revenue by collecting fees for jail calls.
This authority, while granted by state law and celebrated by Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson as a "win for taxpayers," is viewed by many state Democrats to be a moral wrong that only exacerbates issues of inequity in the justice system.
State Rep. Tony Cabral (D–New Bedford), who has been a counterweight to Sheriff Hodgson's rightward notions of correctional justice, joined me on-air recently to discuss, among other things, an amendment passed by the State House that will end the practice of charging mostly low-income Commonwealth residents for jail calls.
"In the end, who pays for those calls? It's the families who pay for those calls," Cabral said. "A lot of those families are really struggling to survive and they are saddled by huge phone bills."
The House version of the amendment prohibits charging inmates for jail calls and sets aside a $20 million trust to pay for the calls and compensate sheriff's offices for the lost revenue. Cabral expressed confidence that whether or not an amendment makes it into the Senate version of the budget, the conference committee will adopt the House version in the final budget bill.
In FY23, New Bedford will receive over $25 million in unrestricted state government aid for the City budget. Cabral discussed securing specific budget items for New Bedford, which included $80,000 for youth programs at Dennison Memorial, $50,000 for opioid abuse treatment at the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, $75,000 for AHA!, $50,000 for programming at the Fredrick Douglass House, $25,000 for a youth apprenticeship at New Bedford Festival Theatre, $25,000 for new citizenship and workforce education for the Immigrants Assistance Center, and $50,000 for the Zeiterion Theatre.
Though funding for the Zeiterion has been the subject of some controversy after Mayor Jon Mitchell announced a $5 million ARPA allocation to the theatre, Cabral maintains that the performing arts center is an important driver of economic growth and youth outreach in the City.
"It is the premiere performing arts center, not only in New Bedford but for the region," he said. "It has such a positive impact on the economy as a whole. When you have an event by the Zeiterion being organized by the Zeiterion or in the summer by the New Bedford Festival theatre, when you go downtown, every place is booked."
Cabral also discussed the over $199,000,000 in state funding for New Bedford Public Schools, which is a $25 million increase from the previous fiscal year. Cabral said that this is the second of a seven-year commitment from the state to increase funding thanks to the landmark Student Opportunity Act legislation that was signed into state law in 2019.
"This was designed to really help communities like New Bedford," Cabral said. "This is not for bricks and mortar. This for education. This for the classroom. This is for the curriculum, and for the support programs that we need, the wrap-around programs that we might need to address the needs of a particular student, or a particular family, or a particular group of students. I think we have a great opportunity here to put the New Bedford Public Schools on a whole different level."
You can listen to Rep. Cabral's full interview on The Marcus Ferro Show at the 16:40 mark below: