New Jersey County Seeks New Jail Phone Contract, Increases Commission Rate
by Derek Gilna
Officials in Bergen County, New Jersey are seeking bids on a new jail phone contract that will include an increase in the “commission” kickback the county receives from calls made by prisoners, which will go from 60% to 65%. Under the new contract, phone calls from the Bergen County jail will reportedly cost $.21 per minute for domestic calls and $.50 per minute for international calls. There will also be a $5.95 deposit fee for prepaid phone accounts.
At the same time, the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC), which contracts with Global Tel*Link for phone services, has completely eliminated its prison phone commission. As previously reported in Prison Legal News, the DOC abolished commission payments effective August 2015, which will result in significantly lower rates of under $.05 per minute. [See: PLN, May 2015, p.40; Oct. 2014, p.28].
Although New Jersey counties can opt into the DOC’s phone contract, some, including Bergen County, have declined to do so – apparently to preserve their lucrative commission payments at the expense of higher phone rates for prisoners and their family members and friends.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently considering further reforms of the prison phone industry, including in-state rate caps, after issuing an order in February 2014 that capped the cost of interstate (long distance) prison and jail phone calls. [See: PLN, Feb. 2014, p.10].
In addition to county prisoners, the Bergen County jail also holds around 200 federal immigration detainees. “For too long, excessive phone rates have limited the ability of immigrant detainees housed in New Jersey jails to communicate with their families and fight their cases,” said Rebecca Hufstader with the NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic.
“At a time when the state of New Jersey has recognized that it is inappropriate to use correctional facility phone contracts to generate revenue, it is disturbing to see Bergen County increasing its commission to 65% and continuing to charge much higher rates than the state,” added Karina Wilkinson, a member of New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees.
Bids for Bergen County’s new jail phone contract are due by July 21, 2015.
Sources: NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic and New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees press release (June 26, 2015); www.state.nj.us
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