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August 31, 2023

JOINT RELEASE: Laws to Improve Contact with Loved Ones While Incarcerated, Remote Accessibility for Court Proceedings Go Into Effect

DENVER, CO - On September 1, two new laws go into effect to lower the cost of  phone communication between people that are incarcerated and their friends and family and improve accessibility in court proceedings by allowing remote participation.

“I've seen firsthand how complicated and expensive it can be to try to communicate with a family member who is serving time in prison,” said Rep. Mandy Lindsay, D-Aurora, sponsor of HB23-1133. “Too many incarcerated Coloradans have had to limit communication with their parents, spouse, kids, and friends. Our law removes this unnecessary financial barrier to let Colorado families maintain and build their relationships with their loved ones, leading to a more successful transition back into their community and lower rates of recidivism.”

“Maintaining meaningful connections with friends and family helps incarcerated people envision a full life outside of the carceral system,” said Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, sponsor of HB23-1133. “Eliminating the costs of prison phone calls for incarcerated people and their loved ones will help restore hope for those in our corrections system. I am proud to champion this legislation, a low cost effort to reduce the likelihood of recidivism and help people maintain dignity while incarcerated.”

“Research shows that people who have more contact with their families while they are incarcerated have lower rates of re-arrest after they return to their community,” said Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, sponsor of HB23-1133. “Prison can be a very isolating place to be and people in custody deserve the ability to seek comfort and connection with their family and friends that will support them when they are re-integrated into society. With this law going into effect, we’re improving public safety, creating healthier communities, and ensuring that families can stay connected.”

“No cost prison phone calls will help incarcerated Coloradans stay connected to resources that can help them succeed outside of prison,” said Sen. Robert Rodriguez, D-Denver, sponsor of HB23-1133. “Data shows that people who are able to maintain connections with their support system are more likely to succeed and less likely to return to the prison system. Making prison phone calls free is the right thing to do for incarcerated Coloradans and their families and friends.”

Under HB23-1133, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) must provide free voice, video, and electronic messaging communication services to people that are incarcerated and in DOC custody in either a correctional facility or a private prison. Starting September 1, the new law reduces the cost of phone calls by 25 percent. 

These communication services must cover outgoing and incoming attempts.

Lowering the cost of prison phone calls has been shown to reduce recidivism and better prepare people who are incarcerated for their release by helping them maintain critical connections. This law develops a plan to cover the full cost of communication services for people in state custody, allowing incarcerated Coloradans to use these services for free starting July 1, 2025.

“As someone who has spent thousands of hours observing court across our state, I know how unpredictable and inconsistent court access can be for everyday Coloradans, ” said Rep. Elisabeth Epps, D-Denver, sponsor of HB23-1182. “Public access to court observation should not require physical presence in court. By requiring criminal courts to offer consistent remote observation in all judicial districts, this legislation helps move us closer to a criminal legal system that is more transparent, equitable, and accountable for all Coloradans.”

“The more the public is able to access our courts, the better and more transparent they are,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Denver, sponsor of HB23-1182. “This new law will help the public better understand what is happening in our courtrooms, give folks without transportation more options, and help ensure every Coloradan who wants to is able to engage with our court system.”

“As a housing and eviction attorney, I’ve seen the strain that mandatory in-person attendance has on people that lack reliable transportation,” said Rep. Javier Mabrey, D-Denver, sponsor of HB23-1182. “The COVID-19 pandemic required court proceedings to take place virtually, and although they were successful, many courts across Colorado have discontinued remote observation. Because of our new law, Colorado courts must reasonably provide remote access for observers of a criminal court proceeding, ensuring fairness, transparency, accountability, and public discourse within our criminal justice system.”

HB23-1182, also sponsored by Senator Bob Gardner, requires all Colorado courts to provide a remote access option for the public to observe any criminal court proceeding taking place in an open court, unless a court order prohibits the public from observing the case. Under this law, the court must post links for remote observation on its website to make it easier for the public to access the court proceedings.

This law does not require courts to provide remote participation for plaintiffs, defendants, prosecutors, and other judicial personnel.

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