Thursday, 20 December 2012 17:21

Louisiana Reviews Inmate Phone Rates

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Drama erupted recently at a Louisiana Public Service Commission meeting.  What was the source of the drama?  The phone rates that are charged to inmates when making phone calls.  The commission, which is comprised of five members, was until recently split down the middle (with one abstention) on whether there should be changes to the rates charged to inmates.

As it stands right now, inmates are charged about 15 times what others are charged in the state to make telephone calls. Some extra fees are not unusual as there are additional security measures that must be adhered to and supervised when officials allow inmates to make phone calls.  But there are those on the commission that believe that even factoring this needed added expense in, the fees are too high and that the costs are not spread wide enough to ensure as minimal a "hit" to a family as should be.  Instead, the belief is that the costs of penalogical phone service is limited and placed squarely on the shoulders of inmates and their families and not spread among the taxpayers in general.

Chairman Foster Campbell and outgoing Commissioner Jimmy Field are in favor of reducing the rates that are paid.  Commissioner Eric Skrmetta and another member are against any change and incoming member Scott Angelle is believed to be against any change in the rates. (Angelle replaces retiring member Field at the beginning of 2013).  

The argument for not making any changes hinges on the costs of monitoring the calls made. The Louisiana Sheriff's Association maintains that if fees are lowered, the costs of the calls will be paid for out of regular operating budgets. The Executive Director of the Association, Michael Ranatza, states: "What is actually happening is that other sources of revenue within our sheriff's offices are having to make up this loss of revenue in the jail."  However, that statement was somewhat contradicted by statements made by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand who stated that his office makes about $1 million a year from the jail phone calls, of which about $830,000 is profit.  This Means that the bulk of the revenue is not used for paying the costs of monitoring or facilitating the calls.

Under the proposal floated by the commission, there could be about a 25% reduction in the cost of calls to family, clergy and lawyers.  The current average cost for an inmate is about $3 for a ten minute call.  That would go to about $2.29 if the measure is enacted and remains unchanged by the incoming commission.  

One important vote on the commission is that of member Lambert Boissiere III who in the recent past abstained from voting on the measure to allow law enforcement to weigh in on the matter.  Since that time, law enforcement officials have indeed provided strong input.  Boissiere now seems to lean towards a change in the rates.  He has stated that there needs to be reform in what is charged.

One thing is for certain:  The rates paid and the revenue generated to Louisiana sheriffs for calls made by inmates is sure to be a hot topic for the near future.  Those living in Louisiana and those with relatives incarcerated there are encouraged to monitor this situation.

Read 4422 times Last modified on Monday, 24 December 2012 17:17
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