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Mayor de Blasio Announces Full Implementation of Free Phone Calls for People in Custody

May 1, 2019

Implementation of City Council bill makes New York City first major city to offer free phone calls in City jails

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that the City is now providing free phone calls for people in custody after fully implementing Intro. 741-A two days before the bill takes full effect. The implementation of Intro. 741-A makes New York City the first major city to grant free phone calls for people in custody and follows a recent set of reforms that aims to make jails safer and more humane.

“For too long have people in custody faced barriers to basic aspects of everyday life that can help create more humane jails,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “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. I want to thank Council Speaker Corey Johnson for his leadership, and the rest of the City Council for passing this common-sense and crucial reform.”

“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. I am proud the City Council passed my legislation last year to require free phone calls in our city’s jails. I thank my City Council colleagues for supporting this common sense measure, and the de Blasio administration for implementing it,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

“We know that when people in custody are able to remain in frequent contact with family and friends, it helps them plan for the future and reduces their risk of returning to jail,” said Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann. “The more the lines of communication remain open, the better it is for those in our custody. We thank the Mayor and the City Council for passing this law that will help people maintain bonds with their loved ones.”

Prior to the passage of Intro. 741-A, people in custody were charged 50 cents for the first minute and five cents for additional minutes for telephone calls. Now, the Department of Correction will cover the costs made to friends and loved ones, allowing people to stay connected without having to utilize funding in their commissary account. More than 25,000 calls are made daily from City jails.

People in general population will be able to make calls totaling 21 minutes every three hours to anywhere in the United States, including U.S. territories. The limit on single calls is 15 minutes. An internal digital clock in the phones tracks the duration of calls. Individuals in punitive segregation will be allowed a single, daily call for up to 15 minutes.

People in custody in other restrictive housing follow the same rules as those in general population. The guidelines apply equally to pre-trial and sentenced individuals. The DOC is installing additional phone lines in housing areas across its facilities to sufficiently deal with the anticipated increase of calls.

The DOC was already providing free calls to those in custody on a limited basis with detainees receiving three calls a week and sentenced individuals getting two a week. Calling 311, Legal Aid and confidential informant lines were also free.

The City will continue to partner with the same private contractor, Securus Technologies on this initiative. Family and friends who previously set up an account with Securus will have their money returned to them by Securus upon request. The free calls will be permitted during all lock-out periods and will be allowed at any reasonable time as determined by the Captain responsible for the housing areas if they are emergency in nature.

This reform continues a string of initiatives by the de Blasio administration intended to make our jails safer, more accessible to friends and family and more equitable, starting with eliminating punitive segregation for anyone in custody 21 or younger; expediting the bail process with bail kiosks and bail facilitators; a new Wellness Center where uniform and non-uniform staff can gather to observe their religion, exercise and find support between shifts; the expansion of a groundbreaking program that unites families of incarcerated women; registering nearly 900 incarcerated individuals and jail facility visitors to vote; moving all adolescent offenders off Rikers; and unveiling a plan for borough-based jails to replace facilities on Rikers Island, to name just a few of our ongoing reforms.

Council Member Keith Powers, Chair of the Committee on Criminal Justice, said, "Last year, I was proud to join my colleagues to pass a landmark bill that makes all phone calls free for incarcerated individuals. Last month, my bill to eliminate fees associated with paying bail passed the Council. With reforms like these, we ensure incarceration does not hinge on poverty and is not driven by profit, and today is an example of that. I thank Speaker Johnson for this legislation and the Mayor for his ongoing support of criminal justice reform.”

Council Member Rory Lancman, Chair of the Committee on the Justice System, said, "New York City should not profit off individuals in custody who are trying to stay connected to their loved ones, community and legal representation. I was proud to co-sponsor City Council legislation to eliminate unjust fees on phone calls in City jails, and I am glad to see the City has fully implemented our law."

“People in custody awaiting trial should not be subject to unnecessary barriers to their defense or reintegration into society. By making the phone calls from city jails no-cost , thousands of people will benefit by being able to stay in contact with their families and attorneys,” said Assembly Member David I. Weprin, Chair of the Committee on Correction. “I thank Mayor Bill de Blasio, Speaker Corey Johnson, and the City Council for implementing free phone calls from city jails and ensuring that New Yok City remains a model for the rest of the state.”

JoAnne Page, President and CEO of The Fortune Society, said, “We applaud Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Johnson, and the City Council for passing and implementing this innovative law. At The Fortune Society, we know firsthand that human connection is a powerful tool in easing feelings of isolation and hopelessness during incarceration. 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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