NYC Is First Major City to Allow Incarcerated People to Make Free Phone Calls

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A death row inmate uses a phone from his cell in the East Block during a media tour of San Quentin State Prison, December 29, 2015 (REUTERS/Stephen Lam).

Incarcerated people in New York City can make free phone calls from jail, city officials announced.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the bill, which is titled 741-A, has been implemented into law and will allow free phone calls for people who are in custody in the city. In a statement on May 1, de Blasio stated that NYC had become the first major city to implement such a law.

“For too long have people in custody faced barriers to basic aspects of everyday life that can help create more humane jails,” de Blasio said in the statement. “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.”

More than 25,000 calls are made daily from incarcerated people in the city’s jails, according to the statement. People in custody were previously charged 50 cents for the first minute of their phone call and had to pay an extra 5 cents to continue the call; the Department of Correction will now cover the costs.

The new law states that people who are incarcerated can make a phone call that would last 21 minutes every three hours to anywhere in the country, including US territories. De Blasio thanked New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and the rest of the council for passing the law.  

“It’s a fact that incarcerated individuals have a greater chance of rehabilitation when they are in touch with their community. But for too long, our jails charged people for making simple phone calls, which created serious problems for those in our system with limited means,” Johnson said in the statement.

JoAnne Page, president and CEO of reentry service organization The Fortune Society, thanked de Blasio and the rest of the council for passing the law. Page said many incarcerated people feel isolated, and that the new law will help them connect with their families and attorneys.

“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,” Page said in the statement. “Removing cost-barriers for phone calls brings a new level of equity and humanity to our City’s jail system.”

In March, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced statewide criminal justice reforms for the 2020 fiscal year. One of the new reforms includes ending cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent offenses. The new reform would ensure that “approximately 90 percent of cases where people are charged, but not yet convicted of a crime, will remain out of jail before their day in court,” according to the statement.

“Ninety percent of the people who are charged will remain out of jail. You want to talk about a life-changing measure … these are people who would’ve been sent to Rikers in New York City,” Cuomo previously told reporters. “We did not handle the violent felonies … and that’s something we’re going to continue to work on.”

 


About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.

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