Phone and video calls would be free in New Jersey's prisons and jails under new legislation introduced by several Assembly Democrats. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Telephone and video calls would be free for people incarcerated in New Jersey under new legislation introduced this month.
The bill’s prime sponsors — Democratic Assemblymen Herb Conaway Jr., Reginald Atkins, and Sterley Stanley — say removing the cost of communications would enable frequent and consistent family phone calls.
“The more incarcerated people stay in touch with their families, the better they do when they reenter society while those with weaker support systems, due to lack of communication during incarceration, are more likely to reoffend,” the lawmakers wrote in their bill.
Such a lifeline to the outside can improve the mental health of people while they’re incarcerated and help them succeed and avoid reoffending after they’re released, studies show.
The cost of calls can climb so high that some families go into debt to maintain contact with incarcerated loved ones, the lawmakers noted. Making calls free will reduce that financial burden, they said.
Current state law caps the cost of inmate telephone calls to 11 cents a minute for domestic debit, prepaid, and collect calls. People incarcerated in state prisons pay 4.8 cents a minute for calls, while costs in county facilities vary.
Under the new bill, state and private prisons and jails would have to provide phone and video calls — including international calls — at no cost to either the inmate or the person on the other end of the line.
The legislation comes just a month after President Biden signed a new federal law empowering the Federal Communications Commission to limit fees for phone and video calls in correctional facilities.
A December study of prison phone costs by the Prison Policy Initiative found that some states, counties, and telecom providers price-gouge incarcerated people and their loved ones. The advocacy group called on policymakers to reduce the cost of communications in correctional facilities.
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