To everyone’s surprise, Governor Christie signed into law NJ S1880, which caps interstate and intrastate telephone rates from jails and prisons at fair and reasonable rates–11 cents per minute intrastate, and 25 cents a minute for international calls. The legislation also bans commissions, or kickbacks, on calls–money which jails and prisons accepted from phone companies which are currently at 50% to 70% in some New Jersey jails. Currently jails that house immigrant detainees (Bergen, Essex and Hudson jails) charge about $18 to $45 for a 15 minute international call.
The bill is primarily designed to ease the burden of predatory phone rates on incarcerated people in general, but it applies also to immigrants who are being held in detention waiting deportation or hearings. These waiting periods can last from weeks to months or even years, often with no way for the person to know when or if the case will be resolved.
Allowing families of incarcerated individuals, including immigrants, is not only humane, it benefits the community at large. Maintaining family and community ties reduces recidivism and facilitates reintegration into society upon release.
The bill was promoted by the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, a project of the American Friends Service Committee, under the NJ Phone Justice campaign. Good work!