BATON ROUGE -- Utility regulators in the state with the world's highest rate of incarceration will be asked this week to join the growing list of states that have reduced the cost of telephone calls between inmates and their families.
Louisiana Public Service Commission Chairman Foster Campbell will propose a 25-percent cut in inmate telephone rates and elimination of unauthorized add-on fees at the LPSC's November 15th meeting in Baton Rouge.
"What we are allowing telephone companies to charge inmate families to speak to their relatives behind bars is sinful," Campbell said.
"Cutting these calling costs by nearly a third won't make Louisiana the lowest in the country and it won't compromise security, but it will make these expenses for inmate families much more reasonable."
Campbell, of Bossier City, is supported in his push for lower rates for correctional telephones by Commissioners Jimmy Field of Baton Rouge and Lambert Boissiere III of New Orleans.
An LPSC investigation of inmate calling launched in April 2011 revealed that the average rate for collect calls from Louisiana jails is 30 cents a minute.
Investigators also found that telephone companies providing service to jails charge questionable fees for opening and funding accounts and getting refunds on unused balances.
"The Commission's primary function is to ensure that rates are just and reasonable," said Field. "The results of our investigation indicate that the rates charged for inmate phone calls are, in many instances, not just and reasonable, so corrective action is necessary."
Louisiana incarcerates nearly 40,000 people in 170 state and local jails – the highest number of people behind bars per capita in the world.
"It is not the inmates but their wives, children, parents and grandparents who pay an average of 30 cents a minute to stay in touch with their loved ones in jail," Campbell said.
"That is 15 times higher than calls on the outside."
Campbell said high rates for prison calls prevent inmates from staying in touch with family members, a crucial aspect of their rehabilitation.
"This reform in no way hampers the ability of jails to stop prisoners from criminal activity by telephone. Those legitimate oversight functions will continue."
The LPSC's current investigation of prison telephones is not its first. In the early 1990s the Commission found widespread abuses including double-billing, exorbitant rates and time illegally added to calls.
The Commission ordered more than a million dollars in refunds.
The Commission meeting Thursday is at 9 a.m. in the Natchez Room of the Galvez Building, North at North Fifth streets in downtown Baton Rouge. The meeting is open to the public.
- 30 -