Bureau of Prisons allowing inmates to make free phone calls amid COVID-19 pandemic

But lawyer and family visits have been suspended.

The Bureau of Prisons on Tuesday told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that inmates would be allowed to make video and telephone calls at no cost.

BOP Director Michael Carvajal said the federal agency also took steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in its 122 facilities and visits for lawyers and family members have been suspended.

Starting on April 9, all phone calls from inmates would be free of charge and the monthly call limit was been increased to 500 minutes. Carajaval noted that video appointments would be made available to female inmates. It's not clear if inmates still have to pay for sending emails.

Earlier this week, the BOP rolled out its phase six plan, which includes extending the suspension on visitations until May 18.

Inmate movement to other facilities and outside of the cell has been limited too.

BOP has been under fire by inmates and staff for not being well prepared to deal with COVID-19.

A BOP spokesman told ABC News that the agency "realize[s] that suspending social visiting has an impact on inmates and their loved ones, but our primary purpose in doing so is to help keep them and the community safe."

He adds that they will be refunding video sessions for female inmates before April 9th - but says they have to be scheduled four days in advance.