Johnson & Muoio Bill to Regulate Video Visitation Rates in Prisons Clears Assembly Committee

Legislation Aims to Ensure Just, Reasonable Rates for Video Calls Between Inmates, Families

Legislation Assemblyman Gordon Johnson and Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio sponsored to reduce taxpayer dollars spent on incarceration and make it easier for inmates in New Jersey correctional facilities to stay in contact with their family members was advanced Monday by an Assembly committee.

“Computer-based video visitation allows those who are incarcerated to see loved ones who cannot visit in person due the long distance, disability, illness, a busy schedule or responsibilities at home,” said Johnson (D-Bergen), a former Bergen County sheriff. “Because video visitation is less time-consuming and requires fewer staff members than in-person visits, it can be a means of saving taxpayer dollars while still allowing inmates to remain in contact with their families, which we know increases the likelihood of successful re-entry into society.”

The bill (A-4389) would require the state treasurer to contract with a qualified vendor who charges a per-minute rate for video visitation at county or private correctional facilities. Under the legislation, the selected vendor must be the lowest responsible bidder that offers a maximum rate of 11 cents per minute. While state law created rate caps for telephone calls, there is no limit on rates for video calls.

“As prisons begin to use more advanced technology to allow people to connect with their counsel and their support systems at home, New Jersey must be proactive about making sure that service providers don’t prey on the fact that a father wants to maintain a connection with his son or that someone needs advice from an attorney,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Implementing regulations on video calls will help ensure that the process of connecting inmates to the outside world is fair.”

The measure also would prohibit all state, county and private correctional facilities in New Jersey from imposing additional surcharges or receiving a commission for inmates’ video visitation usage. Additionally, a facility may not charge for video visitation between an inmate and his or her attorney, a representative of the attorney or a member of the clergy.

More than 13 percent of local jails in the United States now use video visitation, and at most of those jails, in-person visits have been abolished, according to research by the Prison Policy Initiative. This legislation explicitly prohibits correctional facilities from replacing face-to-face visitation with video visitation, as other correctional facilities across the country have done.

The legislation was advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.