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PSC suspends ruling, prison phone overpricing continues

2nd April 2013   ·   0 Comments

By J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Writer

In a 3 to 2 decision, the Louisiana Public Service Commission voted last week to stay or suspend part of the ruling made last December that would stop telephone companies from overpricing and extra-pricing phone calls from prison inmates to their families.

The two dissenting votes were those of former Commission Chair President, Foster Campbell and Hol­loway. Eric Skrmetta of Metairie, Scott Angelle of Baton Rouge and Lambert Boissiere III of New Or­leans all voted to allow the practice of excessive charging to continue.

According to Bill Robertson of Campbell’s office, the part of the ruling that has been stayed deals with the phone companies adding arbitrary charges to bills at will. The majority of commissioners felt that this practice should be allowed to continue for another six months while the issue, which has been on the table for two years, is studied further. The monies collected for the next six months are to placed in an escrow account and refunded to the consumers if the commission determines that the practice should be permanently banned.

The phone companies have been trying to get the decision reversed putting forth a new proposal at each meeting. Companies like City Tele Coin, Global Tel-Link, Securus Technologies and Intel­lical Operator Services have been allowed to charge several times the legitimate rates and then on other charges as they please, leaving families with the option of either paying or not communicating. Since many prisoners are housed miles away from their loved ones this presents a special hardship.

Entrepreneur, activist and former inmate, Fox Rich says the financial hardship is only one of the factors to consider, “These fathers need to see their children. These children need to know their fathers. Anything that can be done to keep these families together should be done. They are already paying their debt to society by being incarcerated.” Numerous studies have shown the positive benefits that regular family contact has related to prisoner rehabilitation. Many have questioned whether rehabilitation is even an objective in a system that makes so much money for so many private companies. Each incarcerated person brings a profit to the system.

“Louisiana is the largest per capita incarcerator in the United States and the U.S. is by far the largest incarcerator in the world,” says Rich. Louisiana is also known for enforcing stiffer sentences for minor crimes than other states.

Rich is joining the voices of others who are calling on inmates and their families to learn about the members of the PSC and contact them to let their concerns be known.

This article originally published in the April 1, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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