Foster Campell

Louisiana Public Service Commissioner

Campbell Calls for Refund of Millions in Illegal Jail Telephone Fees

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Foster Campbell

LOUISIANA PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONER

13 July 2015

Contact Bill Robertson, 318 676 7464 or 318 208 2288

 

BOSSIER CITY – Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell is asking that millions

of dollars in telephone charges illegally collected from families of Louisiana’s 40,000 jail

inmates be refunded.

“The Public Service Commission regularly orders refunds when utilities overcharge

customers,” Campbell said. “Companies that operate inmate telephone systems in Louisiana

jails and prisons must be treated no differently.”

Campbell’s request is on the PSC’s agenda for its July 22 meeting in Baton Rouge.

Jails and prisons hire specialized firms to run telephone systems used by inmates. Family

members on the outside pay for the calls.

A PSC investigation in 2011-12 concluded that the rates for inmate calls were an average

of 30 times higher than calls on the outside.

The investigation also found that telephone companies routinely ignore commission

orders and tack on a variety of illegal fees. Examples include $10 to buy a $50 block of time,

$2.50 to add a telephone to the account, and $5 to obtain a refund.

“Some of these companies also confiscate any money left in consumer accounts after a

period of time,” Campbell said.

“These practices are dishonest and immoral. Jail telephone companies prey on inmate

families, who have no choice in the provider of service and little to no ability to fight back.”

Campbell added that high rates and illegal surcharges on inmate telephone bills prevent

families from maintaining ties with their relatives behind bars.

“At a time when the public is calling for reform of our criminal justice system, in a state

that incarcerates more people per capita than any place on Earth, we must not allow these illegal

practices to continue.”

In March the Public Service Commission concluded contempt proceedings against inmate

phone provider City Tele-Coin of Bossier City. The commission said any charges in excess of

commission-approved rate caps were prohibited.

The commission also rejected the company’s argument that it had filed notice of the

added charges with the PSC.

Campbell led a unified commission to reach a landmark decision in December 2012 that

lowered the rates allowed for inmate calls by 25 percent and ordered the immediate elimination

of all added charges on bills. Advocates for inmate families were joined in supporting the

reform by representatives of the Catholic, Methodist, Baptist and Episcopal churches.

Commissioners said the rate reduction did nothing to hamper the ability of jail operators

to monitor inmate calls for security purposes.

Commission staff audited the inmate phone companies for compliance with the reforms

in the spring of 2013. The audit revealed that two companies, City Tele-Coin and Securus

Technologies of Dallas, had continued to collect fees never approved by the PSC.

“Millions of dollars in illegal fees have been collected from consumers,” Campbell said.

“That money must be returned to the people who paid it.”

Efforts to reform the inmate telephone industry have spread from a handful of states,

including Louisiana, to the national level. The Federal Communications Commission last year

lowered rates for inmate calls that cross state lines and declared its intent to take over the

regulation of intrastate calls as well, a move Campbell supports.

“I am proud that Louisiana has joined other states and the federal government in trying to

end these unjust practices of the inmate telephone industry,” Campbell said. “Returning these

illegal fees to the families of 40,000 Louisiana jail inmates is the right thing to do.”

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