Advocates Disappointed that FCC Raises Rate Caps – Urge Governor Christie to Sign NJ Legislation Reducing Prison & Jail Phone Rates

ADVOCATES DISAPPOINTED WITH HIGHER FCC JAIL PHONE RATE CAPS
URGE GOVERNOR CHRISTIE TO SIGN STRONG NEW JERSEY LEGISLATION

For Immediate Release
August 4, 2016
Contact: Karina Wilkinson, karinawilkinson@gmail.com
Serges Demefack, 973-854-0401

Trenton, NJ – Today the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed three to two a proposal that will raise rate caps for all calls from prisons, jails, and detention facilities. The vote comes less than a year after the FCC adopted comprehensive reforms of fees and rates in October 2015, which were partially stayed earlier this year due to a lawsuit filed by prison phone service providers. The FCC’s reconsideration of its Order will lead to earlier adoption of new higher rate caps intended to end exorbitant prison and jail phone rates.

The FCC’s actions make it clear that states have plenty of leeway to set fair and reasonable phone rates, as the New Jersey Legislature has attempted to do with S.1880, which awaits Governor Christie’s signature before it can become law. The legislation caps interstate and intrastate rates at 11 cents per minute and international calls at 25 cents, and bans commissions, or kickbacks, on calls currently at 50% to 70% in some New Jersey jails. Commissions drive up costs for families with loved ones in jail or prison.

“Governor Christie has the opportunity to sign strong legislation to bring much-needed relief to New Jersey families by capping prison and jail phone rates and banning kick-backs as high as 70%,” said Karina Wilkinson, a member of New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees (NJAID). “We urge Governor Christie to protect New Jerseyans from predatory prison phone service providers by signing S.1880 into law.”

The legislation would significantly decrease phone rates for international calling, which is particularly important for immigrant detainees who often rely on communication with family and others abroad to gather evidence for their immigration proceedings. The three New Jersey jails that house immigrant detainees (Bergen, Essex and Hudson jails) charge from nearly $18 to $45 for a 15-minute international call.

“Making a basic phone call to a loved one remains a luxury for New Jersey immigrants in ICE custody,” said Serges Demefack, of the American Friends Service Committee and NJAID. “It is simply wrong when local governments benefit from the misfortune of people in detention. The practice of government commissions on jail telephone contracts must end. It is immoral and unjust.”

The FCC’s October 2015 reforms capped rates at a maximum of 11 cents a minute for all state and federal facilities, and between 14 and 22 cents for local jails depending on the Average Daily Population (ADP). The FCC’s new caps are to be phased in over two years starting with implementation 90 days from publication in the Federal Register for prisons and 180 days for jails. The modified rate caps are as follows:

• 31 cents/minute for debit/prepaid calls in jails and detention centers with ADP up to 349;
• 21 cents/minute for debit/prepaid calls in jails and detention centers with ADP 350 to 999;
• 19 cents/minute for debit/prepaid calls in jails and detention centers with ADP over 1,000;
• 13 cents/minute for debit/prepaid calls, in state or federal prisons.

Allowing families of incarcerated individuals to stay in touch is not only humane, it also benefits the community at large. Permitting incarcerated individuals to communicate with their families and maintain ties to the community reduces recidivism and facilitates reintegration into society upon release from jail or prison.

New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees is a statewide coalition that advocates for immigrants in detention, educating the public, and organizing to eliminate detention. For information on NJAID and the NJ Phone Justice campaign, please visit www.njphonejustice.org.

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