NJ Advocates Applaud Today’s Vote by the FCC to Lower Prison Phone Rates

Historic Vote by FCC to Lower Prison and Jail Phone Rates

The New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees applaud Chairwoman Clyburn and the Federal Communications Commission for taking a historic vote this morning to lower prison phone rates and fees. NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees and diverse criminal justice organizations joined with families of prisoners to petition the FCC to pass rules that make interstate inmate calling rates more affordable.

Today, the FCC voted 2-1 in favor of reforming the prison phone industry and ensuring that people who are incarcerated will be able to stay connected with their families, including an estimated 2.7 million children who rely on interstate phone calls to stay in touch with their parents.  The rule ensures a safe harbor rate of .12/minute for prepaid interstate calls and .14/min for collect interstate calls and imposes a rate cap of $.21/minute for debit and prepaid interstate calls and $.25/minute for collect interstate calls.  The FCC also determined that site commissions paid by prison phone companies to contracting government agencies (up to 70% of prison phone revenue) are not a cost of providing phone services and thus can not be recovered. The rule will be in effect 90 days after it is published in the federal register.

“Phone companies have repeatedly claimed without evidence that protecting consumers threatens profits and security,” said Steven Renderos, from the Media Action Grassroots Network. “Today the FCC showed that they were listening to the research that overwhelmingly demonstrates keeping families connected through prison bars builds stronger families, better communities and makes us all safer.”

The two to one vote will impact many immigrants held in New Jersey county jails whose families are out of state.   For example, Bergen County detains hundreds of immigrant detainees each year whose families are in New York and whose immigration cases are initiated by the New York Field Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Bergen County can house over 150 such detainees through an intergovernmental service agreement with ICE. The FCC rule will affect interstate telephone services for such detainees, along with detainees and inmates in Essex, Hudson and Monmouth County jails. Rates from the four county jails are around $15 for a 15 minute call to New York. At 21 cents per minute, a 15 minute call would cost $3.15.  It will also affect people held or incarcerated in county and state jails for criminal cases in NJ who make calls out of state. NJ profits by $3 to $6 million per year on prison phone calls by taking money from the families of those detained and imprisoned. There will be pressure to lower rates for calling within state and to eliminate commissions on those calls, too.

“The FCC order to cap phone rates will directly affect state prisoners and county inmates, as well as hundreds of immigrant detainees held in county jails in New Jersey by New York Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” said Karina Wilkinson, Co-Founder of the Monmouth County Coalition for Immigrant Rights, a member group of the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees. “The state takes a 41% commission on prison phone calls and Bergen, Essex and Hudson county jails take commisstions of between 54% and 57%. The exhorbitant rates and fees adversely impact families that can least afford it.”

The reasons we support fair and just phone rates include:

  • Studies show that government has a vested interest in keeping inmates and their families connected helps prevent the cycle of repeat offenders — which prevents crime and saves communities money.
  • Current prison phone rates do not reflect the cost of service – 60 percent of costs go toward commissions for corporations and prison agencies.
  • Studies show that marketplace pricing does not offer competitive and fair choices for inmates and families.
  • More than 2.7 million kids in the United States have a parent in prison and rely on phone calls to provide stability, comfort and a sense of normalcy.

Members of New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees:

• American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Program
• Casa de Esperanza
• Episcopal Immigration Network
• IRATE & First Friends
• Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in NJ
• Middlesex County Coalition for Immigrant Rights
• Monmouth County Coalition for Immigrant Rights
• NJ Association on Correction
• NJ Forum for Human Rights
• Pax Christi NJ
• People’s Organization for Progress – Bergen County Branch
• Reformed Church of Highland Park
• Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill ESL
• Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair