If you want to transfer money to someone you can do it for free using Venmo, and several other companies allow you to do this kind of transaction for a nominal fee. But that’s not the case if you’re trying to send money to someone who’s locked up in a New Jersey prison.

Wanda Bertram, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative, said the New Jersey Department of Corrections, like corrections departments in most other states, uses a for-profit company to handle inmate banking.

“In New Jersey, it’s a company called Securus, which is actually rather notorious across the country for charging incarcerated people and their families an arm and a leg,” she said. "If I want to make a deposit to my loved one in prison in New Jersey, I’m going to see a fee of $3 tacked onto the $20.

A 15% processing fee

She noted a deposit of $50 in an inmate’s account requires a $7 processing fee.

Bertram said this means if family members want to give money to an incarcerated loved one for even basic hygiene items, “if you can’t afford to pay a 15% surcharge on your deposit to your loved one who’s in prison then you don’t really have anywhere else to go.”

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In certain situations a check or cash can be mailed, she said, “but states make it very hard to use any other option besides the contractor that they’ve set up.”

Why are the fees so high?

She called the fees "senseless."

“There is no reason to charge incarcerated people and their families an arm and a leg, and yet that’s what our prison systems have chosen to do," Bertram said.

Prison guard with keys walking outside cell

Bertram said the only reason these fees are so high is that the goal is to make money.

“These companies are out to make a buck and the prison system is fine with that. What’s tragic about this is that prison systems, if they chose to, could get these rates way down,” she said.

Bertram said this is a clear indication the Corrections Department in New Jersey doesn’t really care that much about the people serving time behind bars.

“They’re willing to sign away basic and essential services to any company that is willing to take the services off their hands, rather than them having to do it internally.”

Man in prison hands of behind hold Steel cage jail bars. offender criminal locked in jail.
Rattankun Thongbun

She noted Jersey prisons and most jails charge inmates 5 cents a minute to make a phone call, which is among the cheapest rates in the nation, but legislation is needed to make sure that rate isn’t arbitrarily changed in the next few years.

The Department of Corrections was asked to comment on the issue but they did not do so by Tuesday evening.

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