New Exorbitant Bergen Jail Phone Contract Delayed

Bergen County Freeholders have heard from advocates concerning Bergen County Sheriff Saudino’s proposed new contract with high rates, commissions and fees in a series of letters from the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, the New York School of Law Immigrants Rights Clinic, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Quotes from the most recent letter are in the Bergen Dispatch article
Groups Say Bergen County Jail Phone Contract Gouges Inmates on Excessive Charges

According to groups advocating for the rights of detainees the phone service contract under consideration by Bergen County stands in marked contrast to the new state contract in New Jersey. Under the proposed contract the cost of a 15 minute call from Bergen County Jail will be over five times the cost of a similar call from any state facility and county jail tied to the state contract.

In a letter to the Bergen County Freeholders the group urged the Board to reject the proposed contract saying “these high rates would place a particular burden on Bergen County residents who have family members in Bergen County Jail – a burden that is not experienced by similarly situated families in other counties that have opted into the state contract.”

The letter … asks the Freeholder Board to reject the proposed contract and either opt into the recent State of New Jersey contract or re-issue a bid that matches those rates “with no commissions or fees at the expense of vulnerable families.”

And quotes from Greg Sullivan of First Friends of NY/NJ:

Greg Sullivan, a concerned resident of Bergen County who has been visiting detainees in New Jersey facilities since 2006, stated that he is “disappointed that Bergen County would seriously consider outrageously punitive telephone rates for occupants of Bergen County.” He explained that in his visits with detainees, “the prohibitive cost of phone calls is a consistent complaint” and that since a large portion of the jail population is poor, “this represents a severe and unjustified hardship.” Mr. Sullivan was shocked that Bergen County would consider this proposed contract when there is evidence showing that its rates would result in a cost of $3.50 for a fifteen minute call, which is 15 times the cost of that same call under the state contract.

This week, news came of the outline of the Federal Communication Commission’s new rule that will set caps for all prison and jail calls and reduce or eliminate fees.

At their October 22nd meeting, the FCC will vote on new rules recently announced. It is expected there will be a cap of 14 cents per minute on large jails (over 1,000, which Bergen is). That would, in any case, invalidate the rate of 21 cents that the Sheriff was asking for, so a new rate will have to be negotiated.