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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Rally & Press Conference for NJ Phone Justice! Join us in Trenton on April 30th at 1pm

Join us for a press conference & rally as we demand justice for vulnerable families burdened by the high cost of phone calls in New Jersey’s prisons and jails. We will be marking the historic filing of a NJ phone justice petition and calling upon the state to take action.  The press conference & rally will take place at 1:00pm on Wednesday, April 30, 2014, on the steps of the New Jersey Statehouse (125 W. State St, Trenton, NJ 08608). 

For more information and/or to let us know that you’ll be there, please contact us at zld207@nyu.edu or info@njphonejustice.org.

See you in Trenton!

Bergen Record Reports New Rates and Upcoming Negotiations

The Bergen Record reported today on the impact of the FCC’s Order lowering interstate phone rates from New Jersey prisons and county jails. The Record reports that Global Tel*Link offered Bergen County the opportunity to negotiate increases on other rates and fees to make up for the losses on interstate calls. The story featured quotes from Karina Wilkinson and Pauline Ndzie, members of the campaign for prison phone justice, and emphasized the hardship caused by exorbitant phone rates. Read the full article here.

State lowers rate to $0.17/minute

As of March 4, 2014 the New Jersey Department of Corrections extended its contract for prison phone services with Global Tel*Link for an additional six months (until September 3, 2014). It also lowered the rate for all phone calls to 17 cents per minute during that period. This decrease is great news, but the rate should go even lower! At the same time, intrastate rates and commissions in county jails remain high.

The contract extension is available here.

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

New Jersey Advocates Look Forward to Decrease in Prison Phone Rates

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release

January 14, 2014

Contact: Karina Wilkinson, NJAID, kwilkinson_act@yahoo.com

Alix Nguefack, AFSC, (973) 854-0401

New Jersey Advocates Look Forward to Decrease in Prison Phone Rates

Newark, NJ – The New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees (NJAID) applaud Monday’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to allow the implementation of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s Order capping interstate rates from prisons and jails to go forward. Beginning on February 11, 2014, the Order will limit rates on calls between states to $3.15 for a fifteen-minute debit call and $3.75 for a fifteen-minute collect call. The Court granted phone companies’ motion to delay several provisions of the Order, including provisions requiring prison phone rates to be cost-based and setting presumptively fair “safe harbor” rates. The New Jersey Advocates anticipate that upon review the Court will uphold these provisions, along with the rest of the Order.

“The implementation of hard caps on interstate prison phone rates will provide much-needed relief to immigrant detainees and other incarcerated people, along with their families,” said Karina Wilkinson, Co-Founder of the Monmouth County Coalition for Immigrant Rights, a member group of the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees. “Currently, New Jersey state correctional facilities and county jails charge rates that exceed the FCC maximum, with some reaching over $15 for a fifteen-minute call.”

Bergen and Hudson Counties detain hundreds of immigrants who are in the custody of the New York office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Affordable phone calls to their lawyers and families in New York make detainees more likely to win their cases and better able to re-integrate into their community upon return,” said Roberto Concepción, Associate Counsel at Latino Justice PRLDEF.

Nonetheless, phone rates within New Jersey remain unregulated. After the Order goes into effect calls from New Jersey prisons and jails other than local calls will be more expensive than calls to other states. “New Jersey should follow the FCC’s lead,” said Alix Nguefack, Detention Project Coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee’s Immigrant Rights Program in Newark. “The state Board of Public Utilities or the legislature should cap intrastate rates so that they do not go above interstate rates.”

NJAID advocates to end immigration detention and for improved conditions for those in detention, including lower phone rates for immigrants held in New Jersey. For more information about NJAID and to read our comments on the FCC’s Order, visit www.njphonejustice.org.

Court Grants Partial Stay of FCC Order, Hard Caps Go Into Effect Feb. 11

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit granted a partial stay of the Federal Communications Commisson (FCC)’s Order regulating interstate prison and jail phone rates. That means that sections of the Order requiring that rates be cost-based, setting presumptively fair “safe harbor rates,” and imposing reporting requirements on companies will not go into effect until the Court rules on them. However, the part of the Order that caps interstate rates at 21 cents per minute for debit calls and 25 cents per minute for collect calls remains intact. All New Jersey prisons and jails will have to lower their rates to comply with those caps by February 11, 2014.

Read the partial stay here.

Deadline to Submit Reply Comments to the FCC on Intrastate Phone Rates, January 13

The FCC closed the public comment period on intrastate prison phone rates on December 20, 2013. We submitted the comments below and our New Jersey phone rates chart was included as Exhibit B (p.27) in the comments of the national advocacy groups representing Martha Wright, et al.

NJAID IRC Comment FCC Docket No. 12-375

National Comments on Intrastate Phone Rates by Advocates for Martha Wright

Reply comments can be submitted on the FCC website until January 13, 2014. Sending your comments is easy – just go to the FCC website page for submitting comments and click on “Submit a Filing” (if you want to upload a Word document) or “Submit a Filing (Express)” (if you want to just type a brief set of comments in) and reference Proceeding Number 12-375.

You can also look up other comments from the phone companies and others at the same docket number to see if there is anything you would like to reply to there.

 

 

New York Times Editorial supporting lower prison phone rates

NEW YORK TIMES – ‘Unfair Phone Charges for Inmates’

By  

The Federal Communications Commission ended a grave injustice last fall when it prohibited price-gouging by the private companies that provide interstate telephone service for prison and jail inmates. Thanks to the F.C.C. order, which takes effect next month, poor families no longer have to choose between paying for basic essentials and speaking to a relative behind bars. The commission now needs to be on the lookout for — and crack down on, if necessary — similar abuses involving newer communication technologies like person-to-person video chat, email and voice mail.

Research shows that inmates who keep in touch with their families have a better chance of fitting in back home once released. Before the recent ruling, a 15-minute interstate telephone call from prison could easily cost a family as much as $17. The cost was partly driven by a “commission” — a legalized kickback — that telephone companies paid to state corrections departments. The commissions were calculated as a percentage of telephone revenue, or a fixed upfront fee, or a combination of both.

State prison officials and phone companies said the extra charges were necessary to pay for security screening. But this argument was discredited years ago in New York State, which has outlawed the kickback system and requires its prison phone company to provide service at the lowest possible cost to inmates and their families. Federal prisons also allow inmates to place calls cheaply to a preregistered, approved list of phone numbers.

The F.C.C. ruled that rates and fees may not include the “commission” payments that providers pay to prisons. It also set a cap for interstate calls: 25 cents a minute for collect calls and 21 cents a minute for prepaid and debit calls. And it required the companies to base charges on the actual costs of providing service.

An analysis provided last month to the commission by the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts research group, urged similar rules for video visitation, email, voice mail and other systems. It said that for-profit video visitation systems (allowing families and inmates to talk using, in some instances, personal computers outside the prison and video terminals inside) are being “driven by the same perverse incentives that caused market failure in the correctional telephone industry.”

Absent regulation, prisons and phone companies will simply use the video chats to get around the price caps on interstate calls.

Whatever the technology, gouging prison inmates and their families is both unfair and counterproductive, weakening family ties that could be critical to an inmate’s adjustment to the world beyond bars.