Are calls from jail too expensive? Report reveals NJ figures
It costs too much for New Jersey families to connect with their loved ones who are behind bars, according to a report from the advocacy group Prison Policy Initiative.
Compared to other states, New Jersey isn't even close to being one of the biggest offenders when it comes to the price of phone calls, the report suggests. But there's another problem taking over in New Jersey and elsewhere: the cost of video chats.
State of Phone Justice 2022, released in December, found that a 20-minute video visit between an inmate and the outside world costs as much as $10, depending on the facility. In state prisons, which fall under the umbrella of the Department of Corrections, a 30-minute call is $9.95.
As individual states began regulating the price of phone calls through rate caps and other means, companies started looking at other ways to make money for communication from jails and prisons, the report suggests.
New Jersey was one of just a handful of states for which Prison Policy Initiative could find partial data related to video call prices.
"NJDOC is committed to ensuring that incarcerated individuals access technology that permits connection to loved ones and families through various services," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement to New Jersey 101.5. "These services are competitively bid by outside vendors, and the Department continues to identify methods for providing these services at reasonable and affordable rates, including recently reducing the costs of money transfers."
Phone calls from jails are often more expensive than calls from prisons, the report notes. In New Jersey, a 15-minute call would cost families 66 cents, according to Wanda Bertram, co-author of the report. But the average cost of a phone call from a jail is $1.05.
"That adds up to a phone bill that is not insignificant for families who are, overwhelmingly, the poorest families in New Jersey," Bertram said.
By law in New Jersey, calls from jails and prisons cannot cost more than 11 cents per minute. Also, facilities can't collect commissions for traditional phone calls.
In many states, the cost of a 15-minute call is higher than $3.
"I am 100% sure that people who have incarcerated loved ones in New Jersey are still suffering from the cost of communication," Bertram said. "I don't think there's any reason for legislators to rest on their laurels, especially when it comes to things like video calls."
The report comes with a number of policy recommendations for all levels of government. By and large, Bertram said, they're urging policymakers to bring the price of phone and video calls to zero. Such a move, she said, would likely force facilities to negotiate better deals so that taxpayers aren't footing a massive bill.