NPR & Prison Legal News on NJ’s New Phone Contract Reducing Calls to Under 4.4 Cents Per Minute; Congresswoman Watson Coleman’s Response

WNYC and Prison Legal News covered the expected drop in New Jersey prison and jail phone rates to under 4.4 cents, with quotes from the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Listen to the WNYC report here and read it below, Prison Legal News article here, and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman’s response below.

Phone Rates in NJ Prisons Cut in Half
Friday, May 08, 2015

By Sarah Gonzalez : Reporter, WNYC/NJPR

Making a 15 minute phone call from a state prison is New Jersey will soon costs inmates 66 cents — down from $1.95.

New Jersey Public Radio has reported that making the same call from a county jail can cost up to $8.50.

Papa Faye, a former inmate at Bergen County Jail said the high cost of making a phone call prevented him from speaking to anyone on the outside for four months.

“It was terrible,” Faye said. “I felt like talking to myself sometimes just to be able to get things out, get frustrations out.”

Currently 17 of the state’s 21 county jails use the state’s contract, according to the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees who have been advocating for lower phone rates. They say county correctional facilities opting to use the state’s contract will also have to use the new rate of 4.4 cents per minute.

“We welcome the state’s action to lower phone rates, which will allow people incarcerated or detained in New Jersey to talk to their loved ones for reasonable rates,” said Karina Wilkinson of NJAID. “For decades, prison and jail phone rates have burdened New Jersey families who can least afford it.”

The new rates go into effect by the first of August.

[Updated information provided to NJAID by the state Department of Corrections indicates the new rates must be in effect by August 25, 2015, rather than August 1, 2015]

Watson Coleman Supports Lower Rates for Prison Phone Calls

April 10, 2015 Press Release
For Immediate Release

Ewing, NJ (April 10, 2015) ― Today, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) issued the following statement after the New Jersey Department of Corrections confirmed a contract with the potential to lower prison and jail phone rates:

“Many families dealing with a loved one in prison or jail already face difficult circumstances, like smaller household budgets and the mental and emotional hardship of physical separation. The exorbitant costs associated with calls from New Jersey jails and prisons place an added, unfair, and unnecessary burden on these families. I’m encouraged by the potential for lower call rates, and I’m hopeful this will be outcome.

“I fought to address this issue in the General Assembly, and I’ve continued those efforts at the federal level. We need a prison system in New Jersey and nationwide that focuses on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. Giving inmates the ability to stay in touch with their families is a critical element of improving the system.”

Earlier this year, Watson Coleman sent a letter commending the Federal Communications Commission for new efforts to regulate private companies that provide interstate telephone service for prison and jail inmates. A 2011 report by the Vera Institute of Justice suggests that incarcerated individuals who maintained supportive relationships with family members had better outcomes when they returned to their communities.