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Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer)

TRENTON –  Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner that would require a cap on the price for intrastate inmate telephone calls was approved today by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.

The bill, S-1771, would require the State to contract with vendors who propose the lowest per minute rate on intrastate telephone services for inmates at no more than the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) guidelines for interstate calls. In addition, the legislation would make available either a prepaid or collect call system, or a combination of both, for inmate telephone services.

“By providing a cap on the price for making calls at correctional facilities, we can facilitate communications between inmates and their families without the high cost of surcharges,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “Excessively high charges can take a toll on individuals who may not have the financial support to maintain contact with their family and friends. This could be both psychologically and emotionally taxing and potentially lead to situations within a facility that could have been prevented. Correctional institutions may also find themselves paying the high cost of surcharges imposed by the utility when inmates use intrastate telephone calls for longer periods of time.”

This legislation would follow the guidelines provided by the federal government on rate caps that specifies calls to be 25 cents per minute for collect calls and 21 cents per minute for debit or prepaid calls.  Under the bill, the vendor would not be allowed to impose a surcharge for each telephone call. In addition, it would prohibit a state Department from accepting or receiving revenue exceeding its actual operating cost for establishing and administering telephone services, according to the bill.

“It is important to follow federal guidelines that will help in establishing rules and procedures for inmate telephone calls,” added Senator Turner. “By prohibiting vendors from imposing surcharges and outlining stricter guidelines for receiving operating costs, correctional facilities would have a more secure and cheaper manner in which to provide inmates with communication. This measure would ensure that inmates can properly maintain contact with their loved ones in an affordable manner.”

Furthermore, the bill would require the provider of the telephone service to allow recipients to establish an account with them in order to deposit funds for advance payment of those collect calls as an additional payment. The Department would additionally establish rules, regulations, and department procedures to ensure the security of the correctional facility, its staff, and individuals outside of the facility receiving calls from inmates, under the legislation.

According to the New Jersey Department of Corrections website the current rate for inmate calls is 13 cents per minute plus any applicable taxes. Inmates are able to make a call through collect, advance pay, or debit.

The bill was approved by a vote of 5-0. It now heads to the Budget and Appropriations Committee.

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