New Jersey Advocates Look Forward to Decrease in Prison Phone Rates


For Immediate Release

January 14, 2014

Contact: Karina Wilkinson, NJAID, [email protected]

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

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’


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.