New Jersey, Ohio DOCs Significantly Reduce Phone Rates
According to an April 9, 2015 press release issued by New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the New York University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) has resolved a contract dispute involving its phone service provider. As a result, phone rates in New Jersey prisons are expected to drop to under $.05 per minute starting by August 2015.
Further, while the DOC had stopped accepting commission kickback payments from prison phone companies in 2014, county jails that signed onto the DOC’s phone contract continued to receive commissions of up to 56%. As a result, some jails charged $8.50 for a 15-minute in-state call. Under the DOC’s new phone contract, counties that join the contract can no longer receive kickbacks and must charge the lower rates.
Following an order by the Federal Communications Commission that capped interstate prison phone rates in February 2014, the New Jersey DOC reduced its rates – first to $.19 per minute, then to $.17, $.15 and finally to $.13 per minute in January 2015.
Under the new contract with Global Tel*Link (GTL), the phone rates will reportedly drop to $.04384 per minute – one of the lowest rates in the nation, which will provide substantial relief to prisoners’ families who have been overcharged for years.
“My three children had to live without me while I was detained,” said Pauline Ndzie, who was held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the 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.”
Joanna Cuevas Ingram, an Associate Counsel with LatinoJustice PRLDEF, added, “While this is a major step forward, much more remains to be done at the local level to prevent predatory intrastate and international calling rates from falling disproportionately onto African American and Latino families and communities.”
“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,” stated Karina Wilkinson with New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees. “For decades, prison and jail phone rates have burdened New Jersey families who can least afford it.”
The significant decrease in prison phone rates in New Jersey provides yet another example that prison systems can provide phone services at reasonable rates despite claims by telecommunications companies that higher rates are necessary to cover security-related costs and other expenses. Companies like GTL, Securus and Telmate have petitioned the FCC to cap all prison and jail phone rates at $.20 per minute for debit and prepaid calls, and $.24 per minute for collect calls.
Yet low phone rates such as those adopted by the New Jersey DOC, and by prison systems in other states, indicate that such assertions are simply false. According to a March 31, 2015 news report, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction will forgo $15 million in annual commission payments and reduce its prison phone rates by 75% under a new contract with GTL. The lower rates are expected to be around $.75 for a 15-minute call, or $.05 per minute.
The FCC is currently reviewing public comments filed in a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in a proceeding known as the Wright Petition, with respect to rate caps and other reforms for in-state prison phone rates. [See: PLN, Feb. 2014, p.10].
Sources: Joint press release (April 9, 2015); www.njphonejustice.org; www.bucyrustelegraphforum.com
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