Bergen County Freeholders Vote to Lower Phone Rates in County Jail

New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees

For Immediate Release

February 25, 2016

Contact: Sally Pillay, pillaysally@gmail.com

Bergen County Freeholders Vote to Lower Phone Rates in the County Jail, Bringing Relief to Bergen County Families

 Yesterday, Bergen County Freeholders voted to reject a proposed Global Tel*Link contract that would have burdened people held in Bergen County Jail and their loved ones with exorbitant phone rates. Instead, Bergen County provided long-awaited relief to its residents by opting to join the contract negotiated by the State of New Jersey in 2014, which reduced jail phone rates to among the lowest in the nation and eliminated commission kickbacks to the facilities. Lowering jail phone rates helps keep families together, promotes stronger communities, and has been shown to lower recidivism rates.

“We applaud Bergen County’s decision to join the state contract for calling service in the jail. It will provide much-needed relief to incarcerated individuals and their families in Bergen County,” said Sally Pillay, Director of First Friends of New Jersey and New York, a group that visits detainees in the Bergen County jail and a member of New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees. “The Bergen County Freeholders are placing the needs of the community as a whole over profits, and we commend them for it.  We also urge them to negotiate fair rates for international calling, a service the immigrant detainees housed in the jail rely on.”

After the Federal Communications Commission capped interstate phone rates, the State of New Jersey eliminated its 41 percent commission and in August entered into a new contract with Global Tel*Link that brought rates down to approximately 4.5 cents per minute. As of August, 17 out of 21 New Jersey counties were tied to the state contract. Bergen, Passaic, Cape May, and Salem counties were the only counties that contracted independently for phone services.

Bergen County’s phone rates and commissions under its independent contract were prohibitively expensive. For example, a fifteen minute collect call to a different area code cost $7.50 for a collect call and the facility was receiving a 60 percent commission on the phone company’s revenues. The new independent contract Bergen County was considering for implementation would have increased commissions to 65 percent and set a flat rate of 21 cents per minute for domestic calling, approximately four times the rate under the state contract.

While Bergen County has taken a crucial step towards fairer phone rates by joining the state contract, the New Jersey contract does not provide for international calling, a service that is particularly important in facilities like Bergen County that hold immigrant detainees. The current cost of a fifteen minute international call in Bergen County is excessively high, approximately $19.80.

Bergen County holds some 200 immigrant detainees in Immigration and Custom Enforcement custody, many of whom are unrepresented by counsel. Those individuals are particularly vulnerable to exorbitant international rates, as they need to call internationally not only to stay in touch with family but to prepare their immigration cases and plan for possible deportation. Bergen County must continue the reforms made yesterday by providing international calling services that are cost-based and reasonable.

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