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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