New York City has become the first major city in the country to offer free phone calls for inmates in all city jails.
The free phone calls are now being provided to people in custody on Rikers Island and other city jails. The Big Apple is the first in the country to implement such a massive move towards criminal justice reform.
“New York City should not profit off individuals in custody who are trying to stay connected to their loved ones, community and legal representation,” City Councilman Rory Lancman, Chair of the Committee on Criminal Justice, said. “I was proud to co-sponsor City Council legislation to eliminate unjust fees on phone calls in city jails, and I’m glad to see the city has fully implemented our law.”
Prior to the passage of Intro. 741-A, people in custody were charged 50 cents for the first minute of their call and five cents for every additional minute of their call. Now, the bill requires the Department of Correction to cover the cost of the calls. This now allows inmates to speak to their family and others without having to use funds from their commissary account.
According to reports, more than 25,000 calls are made each day from city jails.
“People in custody awaiting trial should not be subjected to unnecessary barriers to their defense or reintegration into society,” state Assemblyman David Weprin, Chair of the Committee on Correction, said. “By making phone calls from city jails no-cost, thousands of people will benefit by being able to stay in contact with their families and attorneys.”
Those in the general population will be able to make 21-minute calls every three hours to anywhere in the United States, including U.S. territories. While those in punitive segregation will be allowed one 15-minute call a day. The limit on a single call is 15 minutes with an internal digital clock tracking the duration of calls.
“For too long have people in custody faced barriers to basic aspects of everyday life that can help create more humane jails,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “With free phone calls, we’re eliminating one of those barriers and ensuring that people in custody have the opportunity to remain connected to their lawyers, families and support networks that are so crucial to re-entry into one’s community.”
The Fortune Society praised the new decision.
“At The Fortune Society, we know firsthand that human connection is a powerful tool in easing feelings of isolation and hopelessness during incarceration,” The Fortune Society President and CEO JoAnne Page said. “These free phone calls will have a direct and positive impact on the reentry process by giving everyone in jail better access to legal counsel, and helping them keep connected to family, friends, employers, landlords, doctors and others who comprise their important support networks. Removing cost-barriers for phone calls brings a new level of equity and humanity to our city’s jail system.”
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