Bergen County to Enter New Jail Phone Contract with Exorbitant Rates

New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release

June 26, 2015
Contact:
Rebecca Hufstader, New York University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic
Karina Wilkinson, New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees*, karinawilkinson@gmail.com

    Bergen County to Enter New Jail Phone Contract with Exorbitant Rates

Hackensack, NJ – Bergen County has called for bids on a new phone contract that will increase the county’s commission from 60% to 65% of the revenue generated from calls made by people incarcerated in the jail. The new contract will set a flat rate of 21 cents per minute for domestic calling and 50 cents per minute for international calling, with a $5.95 “prepaid deposit fee.”

Last year, the state of New Jersey’s Department of Corrections eliminated the 41% commission. Recently, they entered into a new contract with Global Tel*Link that will reduce prison and jail phone rates to among the lowest in the nation, approximately 4.5 cents per minute by August. Counties in New Jersey will have the option of contracting for jail calling service through the state contract at the same rate as the state-run facilities.

“At a time when the state of New Jersey has recognized that it is inappropriate to use correctional facility phone contracts to generate revenue, it is disturbing to see Bergen County increasing its commission to 65% and continuing to charge much higher rates than the state,” said Karina Wilkinson, a member of New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees. “We encourage the county to join the state contract and stop profiting off of those who can least afford it.”

Correctional facilities across the country have had to make adjustments following the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Order capping interstate phone rates to 21 cents per minute for debit calls that went into effect February, 2014. The FCC is now looking to rein in the cost of calls within states, which make up the vast majority of calls.

Bergen County houses up to 194 people in Immigration and Customs Enforcement New York Field Office’s custody who need to make international calls to prepare their cases in immigration court.

“For too long, excessive phone rates have limited the ability of immigrant detainees housed in New Jersey jails to communicate with their families and fight their cases,” said Rebecca Hufstader, a recent graduate of NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic. “Most detained immigrants do not have attorneys, so they rely on phone calls to gather critical evidence.”

The Bergen County Request for Proposals is attached. Initial correspondence from Inmate Calling Service providers was due yesterday at 3pm and final bids are due July 21st.

See the new New Jersey state contract price list, here.

See Bergen County’s Request for Proposals here.

*NJ 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’s campaign, go to: njphonejustice.org.

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Senate Committee Approves Bill to Reduce Prison and Jail Phone Rates

Alix Nguefack from New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees and Scott Welfel from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice testified at today’s Senate Law & Public Safety Committee hearing on Senator Turner’s (LD-15) bill to reduce prison and jail phone rates, S.1771. As amended it would eliminate kick backs to the state and counties (though the state has voluntarily ended its 41% commission as of Feb 2014). The counties continue to rake in 50% to 70% in commissions on the back of incarcerated people including immigrant detainees.

It was voted out of committee to the Senate floor.

Senator Turner’s press release here.

Senator Turner

Senate Hearing in Trenton Thursday on Phone Rates Bill

The Senate Law & Public Safety Committee will be hearing a bill on reducing phone rates in NJ prisons and jails on Thursday at 10:30am. The bill, S.1771, introduced by Senator Turner (LD-15) will likely be amended to reflect the new state contract that will lower state prison phone rates to 4.4 cents by August 25th, and hopefully address the remaining problems with the exorbitant rates and commissions being charged in the county jails. The location is: Committee Room 10, 3rd Floor, State House Annex, Trenton, NJ. Join us to help encourage the committee to move a strong bill to the Senate floor!

NPR & Prison Legal News on NJ’s New Phone Contract Reducing Calls to Under 4.4 Cents Per Minute; Congresswoman Watson Coleman’s Response

WNYC and Prison Legal News covered the expected drop in New Jersey prison and jail phone rates to under 4.4 cents, with quotes from the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Listen to the WNYC report here and read it below, Prison Legal News article here, and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman’s response below.

Phone Rates in NJ Prisons Cut in Half
Friday, May 08, 2015

WNYC
By Sarah Gonzalez : Reporter, WNYC/NJPR

Making a 15 minute phone call from a state prison is New Jersey will soon costs inmates 66 cents — down from $1.95.

New Jersey Public Radio has reported that making the same call from a county jail can cost up to $8.50.

Papa Faye, a former inmate at Bergen County Jail said the high cost of making a phone call prevented him from speaking to anyone on the outside for four months.

“It was terrible,” Faye said. “I felt like talking to myself sometimes just to be able to get things out, get frustrations out.”

Currently 17 of the state’s 21 county jails use the state’s contract, according to the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees who have been advocating for lower phone rates. They say county correctional facilities opting to use the state’s contract will also have to use the new rate of 4.4 cents per minute.

“We welcome the state’s action to lower phone rates, which will allow people incarcerated or detained in New Jersey to talk to their loved ones for reasonable rates,” said Karina Wilkinson of NJAID. “For decades, prison and jail phone rates have burdened New Jersey families who can least afford it.”

The new rates go into effect by the first of August.

[Updated information provided to NJAID by the state Department of Corrections indicates the new rates must be in effect by August 25, 2015, rather than August 1, 2015]

Watson Coleman Supports Lower Rates for Prison Phone Calls

April 10, 2015 Press Release
For Immediate Release

Ewing, NJ (April 10, 2015) ― Today, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) issued the following statement after the New Jersey Department of Corrections confirmed a contract with the potential to lower prison and jail phone rates:

“Many families dealing with a loved one in prison or jail already face difficult circumstances, like smaller household budgets and the mental and emotional hardship of physical separation. The exorbitant costs associated with calls from New Jersey jails and prisons place an added, unfair, and unnecessary burden on these families. I’m encouraged by the potential for lower call rates, and I’m hopeful this will be outcome.

“I fought to address this issue in the General Assembly, and I’ve continued those efforts at the federal level. We need a prison system in New Jersey and nationwide that focuses on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. Giving inmates the ability to stay in touch with their families is a critical element of improving the system.”

Earlier this year, Watson Coleman sent a letter commending the Federal Communications Commission for new efforts to regulate private companies that provide interstate telephone service for prison and jail inmates. A 2011 report by the Vera Institute of Justice suggests that incarcerated individuals who maintained supportive relationships with family members had better outcomes when they returned to their communities.

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New Contract for NJ, phone rates under 5 cents per minute coming soon!

As of Jan 2, NJ has lowered phone rates in state correctional facilities to 13 cents per minute. That rate will remain in effect during a transition period for a new contract that started on April 27, to lower the costs even further to less than 4.5 cents per minute! The transition period ends on August 25, 2015, as noted on the NJ Treasury website.

We are looking forward to fair and reasonable rates coming soon!

[updated April 27, 2015]

NJ Board of Public Utilities to vote on NJ Phone Justice Campaign Petition

The NJ Board of Public Utilities Commissioners will meet on Wednesday, February 11 at 10am in the State House Annex in Trenton, Room 11. At the meeting, they are expected to vote on the NJ Phone Justice Campaign petition. We will report back here on the result of the vote and whether the state will move ahead with much needed regulation to end the profiteering by counties and prison and jail phone service providers off of families that can least afford it.

FCC Comment Period Deadline: Monday, Jan 12, 5pm; NJAID & NYU IRC Comments Filed

As the FCC Comment Period comes to a close on Monday, January 12 at 5pm, NJAID and NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic submitted the comments below, calling for a cap on intrastate prison and jail phone rates, a ban on commissions and ancillary fees. Our recent findings include outrageous international calling rates at the three NJ county jails that house immigrant detainees, including $45 for a 15 minute call at Hudson County jail. By contrast, Elizabeth Detention Center charges $2.25 for a 15 minute call to an international landline. Get the details and more in our comments below.

Final FCC Comment Docket 12-375 by NJAID and NYU IRC

Reply comments can be sent through January 27th.

FCC Moves to Regulate In-State Prison and Jail Phone Rates

The FCC voted today to issue a “Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” a move to regulate in-state prison and jail calling rates. Once the Notice is published in the Federal Register, there will be a 45 day period set up for the public to comment on the exorbitant rates that continue, especially in New Jersey’s county jails.

Commissioner Clyburn and Wheeler’s press release with more detail is here, and Senator Booker’s statement of support is here.

NJ Phone Justice Coalition Press Conference, Wed Apr 30th, 1pm, State House

Press Conference Calling on the BPU to Lower Prison Phone Rates
Community Groups File Formal Petition with Board of Public Utilities

WHO: New Jersey Phone Justice Coalition

Alix Nguefack, Detention Project Coordinator, American Friends Service Committee
Papa Faye, Recently Released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Custody at Bergen County Jail
Cornell Brooks, President and CEO, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
Jean Ross, Attorney and Petitioner to the Board of Public Utilities
Rev. Craig Hirshberg, Executive Director, Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey
Alex Shalom, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU of New Jersey
WHEN: Wednesday, April 30, 1 pm
WHERE: Steps of the New Jersey Statehouse, Trenton, NJ
WHAT: A group of petitioners including community organizations, family members of incarcerated people, former immigrant detainees, and attorneys will announce the filing of a petition to the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) asking it to limit the cost of calls from New Jersey correctional facilities. The speakers will describe the impact of high phone rates on New Jersey families and call on the BPU to end phone companies’ exploitation of our most vulnerable community members.
CONTACT: Karina Wilkinson, New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, (732) 491-3530
Scott Welfel, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, (973) 624-9400 ext. 20

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State lowers prison phone rates, Star Ledger coverage

Yesterday’s changes in the phone rates for New Jersey prisons and jails will have an immediate impact, especially on immigrant detainees held in New Jersey who are in the custody of New York Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The rates are still nowhere near comparable to New York rates of less than 5 cents per minute, but the state adopted a flat rate of 19 cents, just below the FCC maximum rate and eliminated commissions for prisons. The county jails can still take commissions on intrastate calls, and their exorbitant in-state rates remain in place.

See the documents confirming the change in rates for state prisons here and county jails here.

State officials lower phone rates for NJ inmates

By Naomi Nix/The Star-Ledger

on February 12, 2014 at 7:00 AM, updated February 12, 2014 at 7:06 AM

The cost of making a phone call to mom or dad from behind bars just got a whole lot cheaper.

State officials lowered the price of making local and long-distance phone calls from state prisons from 33 cents a minute to 19 cents a minute to comply with new Federal Communications Commission regulations.

The new rate, which went into effect Tuesday, follows a decade-long campaign by activists around the United States who urged the FCC to regulate phone service companies they say were charging exorbitant rates to inmates and their loved ones.

“Although the wheels of justice often turn slowly, relief for families of inmates has finally arrived,” the FCC commissioners said in a statement. “This means that many families will no longer have to choose between talking to their loved ones in prison and paying their utility bills.”

New Jersey inmates in county jails that have contracts with Global Tel Link, the state’s main correctional facility phone service provider, will also see lower rates for out-of-state calls.

It will now cost 21 cents a minute to make prepaid or debit calls and 25 cents a minute for collect calls to someone outside of New Jersey, according to the state treasury department. Counties will also no longer be allowed to take commissions for out-of-state calls, the department said.

Global Tel Link’s contract with the state expires later this year, which means the rates could change again. A bidding process for a new contract began in November.

The FCC started to explore the possibility of regulating the industry in 2003, after a woman complained to the commission that it was too expensive to call her grandson in jail.

Last August, the FCC declared that the “just” rate for out-of-state calls was 12 cents per minute for debit and prepaid calls and 14 cents per minute for collect calls. The commission also capped out-of-state rates at 21 cents and 25 cents per minute for debit and collect calls, respectively.

But late last year, the phone companies filed a complaint in federal court in the District of Columbia seeking a review of the FCC’s order.

The new FCC regulations still allow counties to charge higher rates for in-state calls and take commissions. And New Jersey inmates in different counties who are served by the same phone company are still charged widely different rates.

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2014/02/fcc_commission_order_to_lower_phone_rates_for_nj_inmates.html