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Johnson, Wimberly, Pinkin & Mukherji Bill to Lower Costs of Prison Phone Calls Heads to Gov

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gordon Johnson, Benjie Wimberly, Nancy Pinkin and Raj Mukherji to reduce inmate telephone charges was approved, 57-20-0, by the full Assembly on Monday. The bill will now go to the Governor for further consideration.

The bill (A-1419) requires the state and the counties to contract with a qualified vendor whose rates should not exceed 11 cents per minute for domestic, debit, prepaid, and collect calls and who does not bill to any party any service charge or additional fee exceeding the per minute rate, including any per call surcharge, account set up fee, bill statement fee, monthly maintenance charge or refund fee.

“I understand we are all looking for ways to increase revenue, but this is not the way do it,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “Charging such high rates puts an unfair burden on these families and makes it harder for them to stay in touch, which can make reintegration into the community that much harder for inmates once they get out. This bill ensures that families don’t have to choose between paying their bills and calling their relatives by prohibiting these facilities from charging unnecessarily high rates.”

“Just because we are dealing with people who are incarcerated doesn’t make it okay to charge exorbitant prices. We are essentially punishing families, many of whom come from modest means, for the mistakes of their loved ones and that’s just not right,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Profiting from the misfortune of these families is shameful. This bill will stop this unfair practice.”

The bill also prohibits a state department, county, or private correctional facility from accepting or receiving a commission or impose a surcharge for telephone usage by inmates in addition to the charges imposed by the telephone service provider.

“For many families, the phone is one of very few ways to stay connected to their loved ones who are incarcerated,” said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “It is wrong to charge the most expensive rate for phone calls. This legislation encourages greater consideration for families of inmates who need this expense to be a little easier on their pockets.”

“Inmates should be able to call their families and friends without the burden of excessive costs,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “Maintaining supportive relationships is an advantage for an inmate’s reintegration after release. Costly phone bills are an inhibitor for families who are simply trying to keep in touch with their loved ones.”

The bill requires the Department of Corrections (DOC), the counties, and private correctional facilities to make available a prepaid or collect call system, or a combination of the two, for telephone services.

Lastly, the DOC would establish rules and regulations or departmental procedures to ensure that any inmate telephone call system established by the bill provides reasonable security measures to preserve the safety and security of state and county correctional facilities, staff members, and those outside a facility who may receive inmate telephone calls.

The measure was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on April 4.