Deadline to Submit Comments to FCC on Intrastate and International Rates is Friday, Dec. 13th!

When the FCC issued its recent order regulating interstate phone rates in jails and prisons across the country, it also asked communities to weigh in on whether it should also regulate intrastate (in-state) and international rates. Right now these in-state rates are higher in many states, including New Jersey, than the rates and caps the FCC has set for out-of-state calls!  These rates have a huge effect on families whose loved ones are incarcerated or detained in local facilities. Let’s make sure that the FCC extends its protections to all phone call rates affecting prisoners and detainees. The deadline for submitting comments is December 13th – so please let your voice be heard.

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.  Then just include your thoughts on why it’s important for the FCC to regulate intrastate and international rates. Some talking points might include:

  • How important communication is for maintaining family relationships, improving public safety and reducing recidivism, and ensuring fairness and accountability in the criminal justice system and the immigration system.
  • How expensive it is for families of prisoners and detainees in NJ to call them due to high rates, surcharges, and the 40-56% commissions (kickbacks) state and local facilities receive on profits that private telephone companies gets for these calls. Capping intrastate rates will encourage these facilities to lower all their rates and send a signal to the state and counties that commissions are no excuse for unaffordable, inflated phone rates.
  • How important international calls can be for immigrant detainees in particular, who often must gather evidence from their countries of origin in order to support their cases for life-saving relief from deportation like asylum and protection against the Convention Against Torture.
  • How these costs are currently being charged to the families who are least able to afford it, and are overwhelming people in poor communities and communities of color.
  • Any personal/professional experience you have with people affected by this issue: if you have been in a jail or prison, if you’ve had a family member or friend in jail or prison, if you work with or otherwise know people in your community affected by this issue–how have the high telephone rates affected you/the people you know? (Lead with this point if you have good stories or examples!)

Come to Our Next Community Forum on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 6pm!

On behalf of the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees (NJAID), we invite you to attend our upcoming forum on prison phone rates (details below). NJAID is a coalition of civic and religious organizations (individual participation is also welcome) whose goals include bringing attention to the plight of immigrant detainees in our state’s jails; working to improve the conditions in those institutions; and advocating for the reduction and elimination of the use of detention for immigrants.

The FCC recently released an order which dramatically lowers interstate prison phone rates. We will be presenting on this order and opening discussion on the various possible ways that we can get intrastate rates regulated similarly. We want to hear from community partners and directly affected persons, create partnerships for action to come, and build excitement about fighting for just rates.

The forum will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 20, from 6-7:30pm, at American Friends Service Committee, 89 Market St., Newark, NJ.

Please come and please spread the word! A flyer is available here.

FCC Order to Lower Prison and Jail Phone Rates Released

On September 26, 2013, the Federal Communications Commissions’ Order to lower prison and jail phone rates was released for publication. The order caps phone rates at 25 cents per minute for collect calls, as we discussed after the August 9, 2013 vote by the commission. Once the order is published in the Federal Register, it sets up a 30 day public comment period and a 90 day time frame for implementation.

The Order can be found here.

We will have more info and action items in our next post.

NJ Advocates Applaud Today’s Vote by the FCC to Lower Prison Phone Rates

Historic Vote by FCC to Lower Prison and Jail Phone Rates

The New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees applaud Chairwoman Clyburn and the Federal Communications Commission for taking a historic vote this morning to lower prison phone rates and fees. NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees and diverse criminal justice organizations joined with families of prisoners to petition the FCC to pass rules that make interstate inmate calling rates more affordable.

Today, the FCC voted 2-1 in favor of reforming the prison phone industry and ensuring that people who are incarcerated will be able to stay connected with their families, including an estimated 2.7 million children who rely on interstate phone calls to stay in touch with their parents.  The rule ensures a safe harbor rate of .12/minute for prepaid interstate calls and .14/min for collect interstate calls and imposes a rate cap of $.21/minute for debit and prepaid interstate calls and $.25/minute for collect interstate calls.  The FCC also determined that site commissions paid by prison phone companies to contracting government agencies (up to 70% of prison phone revenue) are not a cost of providing phone services and thus can not be recovered. The rule will be in effect 90 days after it is published in the federal register.

“Phone companies have repeatedly claimed without evidence that protecting consumers threatens profits and security,” said Steven Renderos, from the Media Action Grassroots Network. “Today the FCC showed that they were listening to the research that overwhelmingly demonstrates keeping families connected through prison bars builds stronger families, better communities and makes us all safer.”

The two to one vote will impact many immigrants held in New Jersey county jails whose families are out of state.   For example, Bergen County detains hundreds of immigrant detainees each year whose families are in New York and whose immigration cases are initiated by the New York Field Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Bergen County can house over 150 such detainees through an intergovernmental service agreement with ICE. The FCC rule will affect interstate telephone services for such detainees, along with detainees and inmates in Essex, Hudson and Monmouth County jails. Rates from the four county jails are around $15 for a 15 minute call to New York. At 21 cents per minute, a 15 minute call would cost $3.15.  It will also affect people held or incarcerated in county and state jails for criminal cases in NJ who make calls out of state. NJ profits by $3 to $6 million per year on prison phone calls by taking money from the families of those detained and imprisoned. There will be pressure to lower rates for calling within state and to eliminate commissions on those calls, too.

“The FCC order to cap phone rates will directly affect state prisoners and county inmates, as well as hundreds of immigrant detainees held in county jails in New Jersey by New York Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” said Karina Wilkinson, Co-Founder of the Monmouth County Coalition for Immigrant Rights, a member group of the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees. “The state takes a 41% commission on prison phone calls and Bergen, Essex and Hudson county jails take commisstions of between 54% and 57%. The exhorbitant rates and fees adversely impact families that can least afford it.”

The reasons we support fair and just phone rates include:

  • Studies show that government has a vested interest in keeping inmates and their families connected helps prevent the cycle of repeat offenders — which prevents crime and saves communities money.
  • Current prison phone rates do not reflect the cost of service – 60 percent of costs go toward commissions for corporations and prison agencies.
  • Studies show that marketplace pricing does not offer competitive and fair choices for inmates and families.
  • More than 2.7 million kids in the United States have a parent in prison and rely on phone calls to provide stability, comfort and a sense of normalcy.

Members of New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees:

• American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Program
• Casa de Esperanza
• Episcopal Immigration Network
• IRATE & First Friends
• Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in NJ
• Middlesex County Coalition for Immigrant Rights
• Monmouth County Coalition for Immigrant Rights
• NJ Association on Correction
• NJ Forum for Human Rights
• Pax Christi NJ
• People’s Organization for Progress – Bergen County Branch
• Reformed Church of Highland Park
• Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill ESL
• Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair

Join Us at the Next Community Forum

Join us as we discuss how we can put an end to the high phone rates at Essex County Jail.

Where: St. James Church – Corner of Lafayette and Jefferson Streets, Newark, NJ

When: Thursday, August 8th, 5:30 – 7:00 pm

Can’t be there? Contact info@njphonejustice.org and we will keep you updated on developments!

Read Our Comments to the FCC, Our Letters to DHS and County Officials, and More!

Thank you to everyone who sent in comments to urge the FCC to cap the exorbitant interstate phone rates in prisons and jails!  Read our official comments to the FCC. Other individual comments from coalition members and allies are available on the FCC’s website.

But the FCC isn’t the only entity that can help the families of people in prison and jail stay connected with their loved ones.  In fact, we need action from other local, state, and federal agencies to put an end to kickbacks. Several states (including New York) have already ended kickbacks and lowered rates–but not New Jersey!

First, counties can act to ensure fair rates. Read our letter to Essex County, NJ and their letter refusing to be accountable on this issue.

Second, states can act to regulate or legislate fair rates.  Read the testimony of Karina Wilkinson at the NJ State Budget Hearings.

Third, other federal agencies can act, like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)–which has contracts with local counties and private entities to detain immigrants and has the power to prevent kickbacks on telephone services.  Read our formal request to DHS.

Now it’s time to pressure all of these entities to act. Want to get involved? Contact info@njphonejustice.org today.

Deadline to Send Your Comments to the FCC: March 25!

The FCC is considering taking action to on the Wright Petition, which calls for rulemaking to cap rates for interstate calls in jails and prisons across the country. They need to hear from you! The deadline for submitting comments is March 25 – so please let your voice be heard.

Sending your comments is easy – the national Campaign for Prison Phone Justice has put together a handy guide that explains how you can submit comments online or by mail.  Or, if you’re ready to put together a few lines about why you want them to set lower rates for interstate calls, you can go directly to the FCC website page for submitting comments today (the guide explains how to download the right forms if you have questions). If you’re running short on time, just send us an email (info@njphonejustice.org) with your comment and we’ll send it to the FCC – just make sure to get it to us at least a day or two before March 25!

Whether through mail, the online system, or in an email to us, all you have to include is:

Rulemaking Number (12-375)
Your Name and Address
Views on the Subject

Talking points might include:

  • How important communication is for maintaining family relationships, improving public safety and reducing recidivism, and ensuring fairness and accountability in the criminal justice system and the immigration system.
  • How expensive it is for families of prisoners and detainees in NJ to call them due to high rates, surcharges, and the 40-56% commissions (kickbacks) state and local facilities receive on profits that private telephone companies gets for these calls. Capping interstate rates will encourage these facilities to lower all their rates and send a signal to the state and counties that commissions are no excuse for unaffordable, inflated phone rates.
  • How these costs are currently being charged to the families who are least able to afford it, and are overwhelming people in poor communities and communities of color.
  • Any personal/professional experience you have with people affected by this issue: if you have been in a jail or prison, if you’ve had a family member or friend in jail or prison, if you work with or otherwise know people in your community affected by this issue–how have the high telephone rates affected you/the people you know? (Lead with this point if you have good stories or examples!)

Want to learn more? Check out this video of testimony by NJ Phone Justice advocates at the recent FCC/Rainbow PUSH Coalition forum in NY last month.

Upcoming Events for NJ Phone Justice

Please join us at two special events this month:

  • The Essex County Chosen Board of Freeholders Budget Hearings in Newark on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 2:30pm
  • Our next NJ Phone Justice Community Forum at St. Stephen’s Church in Newark on Thursday, Feb. 28, at 6:30pm

For more information, visit our “Upcoming Events” page.  And check out a recent write-up of our involvement at the FCC/Rainbow PUSH Coalition hearing!