TRENTON– Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner setting pricing standards for phone calls made by inmates in prisons cleared the full Senate today.
The bill (S-1880) would require all State or county correctional facilities to contract with the lowest responsible 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. The maximum rate would be capped at 11 cents per minute which is the maximum rate allowed for State Prisons according to the Federal Communications Commission.
“Studies show that inmates that remain in communication with their families do better reentering society and have lower recidivism rates,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon and Mercer). “Currently, the cost of intrastate phone calls from some facilities is as high as 33 cents per minute and can be a barrier to inmates connecting with their loved ones. Additionally, the burden of paying for these calls falls on the inmates’ families. Putting an end to price gouging will help to ensure that those who are serving time have access to their family support system and have a greater chance of success once released.”
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).
“These are families that are facing a significant amount of financial and emotional challenges. The last thing a family needs is more stress over the cost of taking a phone call from a loved one who is incarcerated,” said Senator Turner.
S-1880 cleared the full Senate 35-2 and cleared the Assembly 57-20 and now heads to the governor’s desk.