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Louisiana Public Service Commission Postpones Prison Phone Reforms
At its December hearing, the LPSC decided that telecom companies must lower the rates of most prison and jail phone calls by 25%, starting whenever their current contracts ended or in 2014. The rate reduction did not apply to all calls, but only to calls made by prisoners to family members, clergy, legal aid organizations and certain government agencies.
The part of the LPSC’s order ending unauthorized prison phone surcharges went into effect on February 28, 2013. At that time the telecom companies that contract with Louisiana prisons and jails were supposed to have stopped charging the extra fees, such as fees to set up phone accounts and issue refunds on unused account balances. The LPSC, however, learned that four companies were acting in violation of the new rules by continuing to collect the unauthorized surcharges.
LPSC Commissioner Foster Campbell, who was the leading force behind the reforms, noted that one of the companies, City Tele Coin, was warned against charging extra fees on calls made by Louisiana prisoners as far back as 2006.
“This company, City Tele Coin, did not comply then, and now we’ve learned they – and three other jail phone providers – are still illegally padding the bills of families paying to speak to their relatives in jail,” said Campbell.
On March 15, 2013, the LPSC cited City Tele Coin (CTC) and Securus Technologies, accusing them of continuing to charge the unauthorized fees and noting that, if determined to be in violation, they could be fined up to $10,000. Telecom companies Global Tel*Link and Intellicall Operator Services also were not complying with the LPSC’s order regarding the surcharges, though they have not been cited.
In response, CTC and Securus requested that the LPSC overturn its December 2012 policy changes related to prison and jail phone calls. New LPSC chairman Eric Skrmetta also requested a rehearing on the issue.
On March 25, 2013, the LPSC met to revisit the prison phone reforms. At the recommendation of Commissioner Lambert Boissiere III, the Commission voted 3-2 to postpone its order prohibiting surcharges. For the next six months, companies that provide prison and jail phone services in Louisiana will be allowed to collect the extra fees, but will hold them in an escrow account until the LPSC makes a “final decision” on the legality of the surcharges.
Sources: www.nola.com, press release from Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell (March 17, 2013), www.theadvocate.com
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