11/15/2012

SPLC cites excessive telephone rates charged to Louisiana prisoners, urges reform

The SPLC today called on the Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC) to reduce the wildly excessive rates that telephone companies charge for collect calls made by state inmates – fees that are 15 times higher than charges for calls made outside of jails and prisons.

In testimony before the LPSC, Katie Schwartzmann, director of the SPLC’s Louisiana office, said the fees not only affect the ability of lawyers to communicate with their clients but pose a financial burden to the families of those incarcerated.

With approximately 40,000 inmates in 170 state and local jails, the fees affect hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana.

The fees charged to the SPLC, which represents some Louisiana inmates on a pro-bono basis, illustrate the problem for inmates, lawyers and family members.

“Despite the limited amount of time we spend on the phone with our clients, we had $3,000 in collect call charges over the past six months,” Schwartzmann said. “Most of the fees were accrued by simply taking messages from clients. We urge the commission to address this issue by reducing the rate charged by service providers.”

Following an investigation earlier this year, the LPSC found that the average cost of all calls originating from a Louisiana jail is about 30 cents a minute – compared to 2 cents a minute on the outside. Prisoners must call collect because they have no telephone service of their own.

At Thursday’s hearing, LPSC Commissioner Foster Campbell is expected to ask the commission to cut the rate charged by telephone providers by 25 percent. He is also requesting the elimination of other charges.