It will not come as a surprise to many inmate families to learn that prison phone service providers have been overcharging them.
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.Families cannot shop around for a better deal.
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.Thirty times higher. Can you hear me now?
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.Inmate families often have greatly reduced income when a family member goes to prison and anyone who would take advantage of their vulnerability is a scoundrel, through and through.
“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.”It is hard to imagine the discussions in the board rooms of Securus and City Tele-Coin, the two unscrupulous phone companies servicing Lousiana prisons, when this thievery was approved.
Speaking of thievery, there's more:
“Some of these companies also confiscate any money left in consumer accounts after a period of time,” Campbell said.All but a small minority of inmates will be released from prison at some point. To reduce their ability to maintain contact with those they left at home is to make their homecomings more difficult.
The United States, as everyone should know by now, has around 2.2 million in jail or prison. If you went to prison tomorrow, how many people would miss you? How many people would you like to call from prison? Multiply that number by 2.2 million.
That's the number of people who are at the mercy of companies like Securus and City Tele-Coin.
Kudos to Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell for taking up this fight for Louisiana families.
UPDATE: Added a link. (July 15, 2015)