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TRENTON Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner setting pricing standards for phone calls made by inmates in prisons was approved today by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.

The bill (S-1880) would require all State or county correctional facilities to contract with the lowest bidder for intrastate telephone service contracts for inmates in State or county correctional facilities and to make available either a prepaid or collect call system, or a combination of both, for inmate telephone services.

“Support from family and friends can help encourage rehabilitation, which reduces the chances a person will return to prison. This is legislation that will help to increase the communication between an inmate and their family,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon and Mercer). “It is a small change that will better ensure fair prices for these calls, and hopefully allow for increased communication between these individuals and their families. It’s about trying to lighten the financial burden for an inmate’s family, and also ensure that those who are serving time have access to a support system.”

According to the New Jersey Department of Corrections website the current rate for inmate calls is $0.04384 per minute. However, many counties do not adopt those price policies.  There are three mechanisms an inmate may utilize to place a call while incarcerated:

  • collect – the called party has a contracted telephone company and can accept collect calls up to a threshold limit established by the Department of Corrections
  • advance pay – where the called party sets up an account with the Department of Corrections current vendor, GTL at this time, because he is not authorized to receive collect calls or has blocks on his phone line; or
  • debit – for inmates to purchase calling time by submitting a business remit to the business office at their assigned facility.

The vendor would also not be allowed to impose a surcharge or collect a commission for each telephone call. Moreover, the State Treasurer, or appropriate person on behalf of the county correctional facility, would contract with the qualified vendor who proposes the lowest per minute rate but not exceeding the maximum rate allowed by the Federal Communications Commission (.25 cents per minute for collect calls and .21 cents per minute for debit or prepaid calls)

“This is price gauging and it has to stop,” said Senator Turner. “The families of those who are incarcerated face a significant amount of emotional challenges and, in some cases, financial struggles. The last thing they need is more stress added when taking a phone call from their loved one.”

S-1880 was approved 4-0. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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