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Monday, July 28, 2014
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(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)<br>

(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

State official wants to lower prison phone rates

Last Modified: Saturday, December 01, 2012 9:43 PM

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.”

Online: www.lpsc.louisiana.gov.

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