City picks up the tab for detainees who pick up the phone

Assemblymember David Weprin, chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Correction, hailed the new law. AP Photo.

Assemblymember David Weprin, chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Correction, hailed the new law. AP Photo.

By Jonathan Sperling

Queens Daily Eagle

New York City detainees now have access to completely free phone calls, thanks to the implementation of a City Council bill aimed at making jails more humane.

On Wednesday, New York City became the first major city to offer such a service for people in custody, after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Intro. 741-A would be implemented two days ahead of schedule.

People detained in general population are now able to make free phone calls totaling 21 minutes long every three hours to anywhere in the country, including U.S. territories. The city will limit a single call to 15 minutes.

Individuals in solitary confinement will be allowed to make one daily call of 15 minutes or less. The time constraints apply equally to pre-trial detainees and sentenced individuals.

The cost of the call will be covered by the Department of Correction, according to the mayor’s office.

“People in custody awaiting trial should not be subject to unnecessary barriers to their defense or reintegration into society,” Assemblymember David Weprin, chair of the Committee on Correction, in a statement. “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.”

Prior to the law’s implementation, detainees were charged 50 cents for the first minute and five cents for every additional minute on the phone.

Each day, detainees make more than 25,000 calls from city jails. In order to handle the anticipated call volume, the DOC will install additional phone lines in housing areas across its facilities.

In the past, the DOC provided free calls to people in custody on a limited basis, with detainees allowed three free calls a week and sentenced individuals allowed two a week. Calling 311, The Legal Aid Society and confidential informant lines were also free.

“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 a 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.”