S1771/A4576 passed Monday in the NJ legislature. The vote was 47-22 with 1 abstention in the Assembly and 36-0 in the Senate! The Assembly Appropriations Committee reported favorably an Assembly Committee Substitute for A4576 On December 10, 2015.
Under the substitute, the maximum per minute rate for calls may not exceed the maximum rate allowed by order of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for out-of-State calls and no more than $0.25 per minute for international calls.
In October, 2015 the FCC voted to drastically lower prison phone rates. Under the new rules, a 15-minute prison phone call that used to cost up to $17 will be just $1.65. (View the fact sheet) That change will make a sizable difference for families with loved ones incarcerated at a distance, some of whom spend $20,000 on phone bills during a prison sentence. A recent study found that more than one in three families with a member in prison go into debt due to the cost of phone calls and visits. For children who know their incarcerated parents only through phone calls the new rates will be life-altering. Studies have shown that regular phone communication drastically reduces a prisoner’s risk of recidivism.
The substitute prohibits a State department, county, or private correctional facility from accepting or receiving a commission or any other payment from the telephone service provider based upon an amount the provider billed for telephone calls made by inmates in the correctional facility. The substitute also 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. Under a prepaid or “debit” system, funds may be deposited into an inmate account in order to pay for telephone calls, as long as the department, county, or private correctional facility is not required to provide for or administer that prepaid system. The provider of the inmate telephone service, as an additional means of payment, is to permit the recipient of inmate collect calls to establish an account with that provider in order to deposit funds for advance payment of those collect calls.
Now we need Governor Christie to sign the bill. He has just five more days to sign before the bill is pocket vetoed due to the end of the legislative session. Please write or call the governor’s office, (609)292 6000, today and urge him to sign A4576/S1771.