It shouldn’t cost so much for inmates to call home

From: New Orleans Times-Picayune
Nov. 2nd, 2012
By James Gill

Prison telephones are such a scam that operators can afford to kick back at least $15 million to the state over the next five years — and that’s just at Angola and 10 other state penitentiaries. Altogether, Louisiana, which leads in the world in locking up its citizens, has 40,000 inmates in 170 jails and prisons. They are worth a fortune.

Inmates are not so much allowed as encouraged to make collect calls because the monopolies that provide the phones get to charge such obscene rates. This is the inevitable result of awarding contracts to the companies that agree to pay the state the biggest share of the loot. Sheriffs have been known to get in on the racket by setting up phone companies on the side.

Louisiana is not the only state to see misery as a profit center, but the families of our inmates have for decades been rooked to a spectacular degree. They pay 15 times more for their calls than the rest of us. Occasional attempts to stop the profiteering have been made in the Legislature, but a sense of shame is hard to discover in that quarter.

Now, the voice of decency has been raised, however. The Public Service Commission sets telephone rates, and its chairman, Foster Campbell, is proposing a 25 percent reduction and the elimination of various arbitrary surcharges. He says two of the other four commissioners, Jimmy Field and Lambert Boissiere, are on his side, so it seems he will prevail.

A call from a Louisiana jailbird will still not be all that cheap. It will cost about 23 cents a minute, whereas on the outside we pay 2 cents. Taking a call from the hoosegow in New York works out to just under a nickel a minute. Still, Campbell offers inmates’ families some relief, and they need it desperately.

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