Bernie Sanders’ ‘Prisoner Bill of Rights’ Guarantees Free Phone Calls, Video Chats, ‘Living Wage’

By Craig Bannister | August 19, 2019 | 3:13pm EDT
Sen. Bernie Sanders
(Getty Images/Andrew Burton)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has unveiled a “Prisoner Bill of Rights” he plans to enact, if elected president, guaranteeing unlimited, free phone calls and video chats for inmates.

The “Prisoner Bill of Rights” is detailed as one element of Sanders’ comprehensive “Justice and Safety for All” criminal justice reform plan.

In the “End Profiteering in Our Criminal Justice System” section of his overall plan, Sanders argues that, since the prison phone industry is a billion-dollar-a-year business, taxpayers – and not inmates – should foot the bill:

‘The prison phone industry, for example, is a monopoly business worth more than $1 billion a year, with companies charging sky-high fees for telephone calls that many families can’t afford to pay to keep in touch with their loved ones. Today, 1 in 28 children has an incarcerated parent — a fifth of which are under four years old. Children with incarcerated parents tend to do worse in school, experience anxiety and depression, and develop behavioral issues.”


“As president, Bernie will: Make prison phone calls and other communications such as video chats free of charge.”

In the “Prisoner Bill of Rights” section, Sanders “guarantees” that inmates will have “Access to their families — including unlimited visits, phone calls, and video calls.”

The list of prisoner “rights” also includes a guarantee that prisoners will be paid “living wages”:

“Living wages and safe working conditions, including maximum work hours, for all incarcerated people for their labor.”

In his criminal justice reform plan, Sen. Sanders’ reiterates his intention to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, if he is elected president.

Bernie Sanders’ complete “Prisoner Bill of Rights” is presented below:

As president, Bernie will:

Enact a Prisoner Bill of Rights that guarantees:

  • Ending solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is a form of torture and unconstitutional, plain and simple.
  • Access to free medical care in prisons and jails, including professional and evidence-based substance abuse and trauma-informed mental health treatment.
  • Incarcerated trans people have access to all the health care they need.
  • Access to free educational and vocational training. This includes ending the ban on Pell Grants for all incarcerated people without any exceptions.
  • Living wages and safe working conditions, including maximum work hours, for all incarcerated people for their labor.
  • The right to vote. All voting-age Americans must have the right and meaningful access to vote, whether they are incarcerated or not. We will re-enfranchise the right to vote to the millions of Americans who have had their vote taken away by a felony conviction.
  • Ending prison gerrymandering, ensuring incarcerated people are counted in their communities, not where they are incarcerated.
  • Establishment of an Office of Prisoner Civil Rights and Civil Liberties within the Department of Justice to investigate civil rights complaints from incarcerated individuals and provide independent oversight to make sure that prisoners are housed in safe, healthy, environments.
  • Protection from sexual abuse and harassment, including mandatory federal prosecution of prison staff who engage in such misconduct.
  • Access to their families — including unlimited visits, phone calls, and video calls.
  • A determination for the most appropriate setting for people with disabilities and safe, accessible conditions for people with disabilities in prisons and jails.


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