State official wants to lower prison phone rates

By By Johnathan Manning / American Press

Foster Campbell, head of the state Public Service Commission, wants to see phone rates in Louisiana prisons cut by 25 percent

and add-on charges ended, said Bill Robertson, his spokesman.

A vote on the changes ended in a deadlock at the PSC’s November meeting, but the reforms are again on the agenda for the Dec.

12 meeting, he said.

Prison phone rates average 30 cents a minute, and it’s often families on the outside that pay the rates, Robertson said. There

are also fees, including a $7 charge to set up an account and a $5 charge to reclaim any unused money, he said.

Campbell’s proposal would drop the average cost of a call to 23 cents per minute — $2.29 for a 10-minute call — and eliminate

add-on charges, Robertson said.

“It’s morally the right thing to do.

It’s immoral to do what’s being done to the families of these inmates.

They haven’t broken

any laws,” Campbell said. “If we want to rehabilitate prisoners,

they have to be able to communicate with the outside world.”

Robertson said Louisiana’s rates rank in the middle, but if the proposal is OK’d, the state would have the 14th-lowest rates

in the country and the fourth cheapest in the South.

“At the end of the day, we won’t be the

cheapest in the country,” Robertson said. “But the level of fairness

will rise substantially

for the families of the 40,000 inmates in Louisiana.”

It’s an issue that is being considered nationwide. In mid-November, Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications

Commission opened debate about cutting the rates.

Robertson said prisons get a large part of the funds — about 70 percent of the fees before phone companies take their share.

He said that encourages prisons to accept high bids instead of low bids.

“You can’t make right out of it,” Campbell said. “Everybody knows it’s wrong, but it’s politics in the third degree.”