PSC Commissioner Slams Prison Phone Company Payments

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(WEST MONROE, LA) -- Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell says they're "worse than any payday loan scheme."  He's talking about prison phone rates.  Campbell wants the FCC to step in and regulate inmate phone rates in Louisiana prisons.  He says the rates are much higher than those paid by the general public, but he doesn't have the support to do anything about it.  Campbell said, "We ought to be regulating them, but we don't want to regulate them because, the politics there's a little hot.  Nobody wants to buck the sheriffs."

Those who run the facilities are not required to take the lowest bid for services.  A recent study conducted for the LPSC concluded that half of the money the phone companies make goes back to the operators of the prisons.  

Louisiana Sheriff's Association Executive Director Michael Ranatza says in an email to KTVE 10 News, "Rather than relying solely on taxpayer funding to pay for the operation of our jails and the provision of these services and privileges with necessary security features included, we utilize those commissions to offset our security and personnel cost at our jails." 

But that explanation doesn't sit well with Rickey Lewis.  The Haynesville resident's son was in a parish lock-up.  He had to pay $5.95 to talk to his son for fifteen minutes.  Lewis said, "You don't get no paperwork detailing what you get."   

Lewis says he felt like he was held hostage by the prison phone companies.  He says his bills totaled about a thousand dollars over a fifteen month period.  "The way everybody's treating this is the inmate is the end-user but he's not.  I'm the end-user because I paid for it," Lewis said.    

Commissioner Campbell says prison phone companies are charging fees never voted on by the Public Service Commission.  "(If) You want to get your money out of the account, they'll charge you five dollars to get your money back and some of these companies, if there's any money left on the table, they take the money.  I don't think Louisiana ought to be participating in activities like that," Campbell said.

In 2013, The Louisiana Public Service Commission voted to delay a ban on added fees to give prison phone companies a way to justify added charges.  Today, that process is still pending.  

Commissioner Campbell says a class action lawsuit is in the works to acquire refunds for many families from prison phone companies.  

According to a report by Prison Legal News, eight states have banned prison phone commissions entirely.  They include Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Michigan, South Carolina, California and Missouri.

Here's a list of Northeast Louisiana parishes and how much money they receive from prison phone companies in 2014:

-The Ouachita Parish Police Jury received $444,000 in commission from Public Communications Services, Inc.
Officials say the money is used for the operation of the correctional facility.
 
-The East Carroll Parish Sheriff's Office received $345,036.50 in commission from Securus Technologies, Inc.
Officials say the money is placed in a designated fund for prisons.  
 
-The Morehouse Parish Sheriff's Office recieved $220,000 in commission from Infinity Networks, Inc.
Officials say the money is placed in the corrections general fund.  

-The Franklin Parish Sheriff's Office received $127,000 from Correction Solutions, LLC.
Officials say the money is used for the correctional facility and crime prevention activities.

-The Caldwell Parish Sheriff's Office received $66,000 from Infinity Networks, Inc. and Correct Solutions, LLC
Officials say the money goes into the department's general fund.

-The Union Parish Detention Center Commission received $59,680.63 from Infinity Networks, Inc.
Officials say the money is used for the operation of the detention center and inmate welfare.

-The Lincoln Parish  Law Enforcement District received $7,863.92 from City Tele-Coin Company, Inc.
Officials say the money goes into the Lincoln Parish Police Jury-Detention Center Fund and the funds are used in the operations of the detention center to supplement the offender's housing cost.

-The Madison Parish Jail received $6,400 from Correct Solutions, LLC.
Officials say the money goes into the general fund.

-West Carroll Parish Sheriff's Office received $2,836.75 from Infinity Networks, Inc.
Officials say funds were deposited into the general fund and that all expenses, including jail expenses, are paid from the general fund.

**Jackson & Richland Parish governments receive no phone commission.  Their facilities are privately owned.  

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