Two consultants hired to analyze the cost of prisoner phone calls charged by Louisiana’s Sheriffs have resigned due to conflict of interest.
The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) held two hearings in 2012 on the prison phone issue. Much anger was expressed about the exorbitant costs of call from prisoners to their families and loved ones. Protestant and catholic clergy who work with prisoners argued for lower phone rates. Law enforcement offices, who profit from the phone calls, opposed a reduction.
The PSC voted in December 2012 to impose a 25 percent reduction to phone rates starting in 2014 or upon renewal of a contact between prison officials and phone companies. See PLN’s article “Louisiana Public Service Commission Votes to Lower Prison and Jail Phone Rates.” When Eric Skrmetta became chairman, he moved to reopen the issue. In March, he spearheaded a vote to postpone part of the order by six months.
A 4-1 vote in May approved the hiring of Henderson Ridge Consulting Inc., and Allerton & Company LLC to gather information on other jurisdictions and report back. In July, the two companies resigned from the $82,070 contract after a state regulator uncovered a conflict of interest.
One of the consultants, William Allerton, worked on the political campaigns of the former sheriff of Plaquemines Parish and state Rep. Ernest Wooten, who attended PSC hearings to lobby against regulating prison or jail phones. According to PSC records, Wooten paid Allerton $5,000 in August 2011 for opposition research.
“It’s not an appearance. It is a conflict of interest,” said PSC Commissioner Foster Campbell, who was PSC’s chairman when it voted to regulate prisoner phone costs. “Ernest was lobbying against us, working for the Sheriffs, and his guy was chosen to be grading our papers?”
Campbell said that opponents hoped the study would “provide cover for voting” to overturn regulation of prisoner phone costs.
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