ADVOCATES APPLAUD NEW JERSEY BILL CAPPING PRISON AND JAIL PHONE RATES
For Immediate Release, August 31, 2016
Contact: Karina Wilkinson, NJAID, [email protected]
Serges Demefack, AFSC, 973-854-0401
Trenton, NJ – The New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees (NJAID), New York University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, and Latino Justice PRLDEF welcome the signing into law of New Jersey legislation to ensure fair and reasonable phone rates in jails and prisons. The legislation, S1880 caps interstate and intrastate rates at 11 cents per minute and international calls at 25 cents, and bans commissions, or kickbacks, on calls.
“New Jersey now leads the country in protecting incarcerated individuals and their families from predatory phone rates,” said Karina Wilkinson, a member of NJAID. “We are pleased the Legislature and Governor acted to place the needs of New Jersey families and the community as a whole over profits.”
Commissions, currently at 50% to 70% in some New Jersey jails, drive up costs for families with loved ones in jail. The signing of the bill comes as welcome news to families in the New Jersey counties that continue to charge high rates and accept commissions from out-of-state companies at the expense of New Jersey residents.
“My three children had to live without me while I was detained,” said Pauline Ndzie, who was held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Hudson County Jail for five months. “I usually couldn’t afford to call them more than once a week. It isn’t fair to keep children from talking to their mother because of the high cost of phone calls.”
The legislation significantly decreases phone rates for international calling, which is particularly important for immigrant detainees who often rely on communication with family and others abroad to gather evidence for their immigration proceedings. The three New Jersey jails that house immigrant detainees (Bergen, Essex and Hudson jails) charge from nearly $18 to $45 for a 15-minute international call.
Joanna E. Cuevas Ingram, an Associate Counsel with LatinoJustice PRLDEF observed, “This is a major step forward in helping to prevent predatory intrastate and international calling rates from falling disproportionately onto Latino families and communities. Local facilities should not be permitted to charge $45 for a 15-minute international call to allow people to stay in touch with their family and loved ones. This new legislation will help ensure that fair and reasonable standard calling rates are provided in every detention facility in New Jersey, a path that we hope other states will soon follow.”
While the state and counties tied to the state contract have already reduced rates to less than 4.5 cents per minute and ended commissions, at least three counties in New Jersey continue to charge high rates. It currently costs more than minimum wage for a resident in Cape May, Salem, or Passaic for some calls to loved ones in jail. Under the legislation, all in-state calls will go down from $3.75 to $1.65 in Cape May, Salem, and Passaic Counties. The bill also removes the incentive for counties to leave the state contract, since they would not longer be able to take commissions.
“I was detained for 2 years, the calls were very, very expensive,” said P.F., an immigrant who was detained by ICE in a New Jersey jail. “I spent a long time without talking to my family. One day I called New York for 4 minutes and it took $9 out of my telephone account. Another day 5 to 6 minutes cost me $13. I never understood how charges were calculated. The price was too high.”
Allowing families of incarcerated individuals to remain in contact is not only humane, it also benefits the community at large. Permitting incarcerated individuals to communicate with their families and maintain ties to the community reduces recidivism and facilitates reintegration into society upon release from jail or prison.
“Affordable phone rates keep families and communities strong by helping them stay connected. New Jersey is showing real leadership to protect vulnerable families by enacting this legislation,” said Professor Alina Das, of the New York University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic.
“Making a basic phone call to a loved one is no longer a luxury for New Jersey immigrants in ICE custody, said Serges Demefack, End Detention and Deportation Project Coordinator
Immigrant Rights Program, of the American Friends Service Committee. “It is very disappointing when local governments benefit from the misfortune of people in detention. The new bill will bring much needed relief to immigrant detainees who are by law ineligible to receive legal assistance from the government.”
New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, a project of the American Friends Service Committee, is a statewide coalition that advocates for immigrants in detention, educating the public, and organizing to eliminate detention. New York University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic is a leading institution in both local and national struggles for immigrant rights. LatinoJustice PRLDEF, originally established as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) in 1972, is one of the foremost national nonprofit civil rights legal defense and education funds working to advance, promote, and protect the legal rights of Latina/os throughout the nation. For information on NJAID and the NJ Phone Justice campaign, please visit www.njphonejustice.org.