Minden Press-Herald

Sep 30th

Public Service Commission: Padded bills wrong

campbellRighting a "moral wrong" has Louisiana Public Service Commission member Foster Campbell fighting for families of jailed prisoners.

Prison phone companies have been illegally padding consumer bills and adding fees such as origination fees and refund fees and charging more than 30 times the rate of outside calls to inmate phone calls, according to Campbell.

Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton said Infinity Corporation serves as telephone provider at Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center.

"They have been our provider for eight years and serves approximately 500 inmates daily," Sexton said.

The WPSO currently receives 51.5 percent of what they make off of the telephone rates at the prison and the money is used to offset the cost of the police jury trying to keep parish prisoners, Sexton explained.

"I only know that I (the sheriff's office) receive the commission rate, and I don't know anything about any padded amount that the telephone vendors add on top of that," Sexton said.

"We only deal with the vendor and what they pay us to put their phones in our system," continued Sexton.

He believes jails must be run like businesses.

"The more that we can make off of services like that, the less money I have to charge back to police jurors and taxpayers," he said.

"I understand why the sheriffs' departments are using the money, but I am against the illegal charges," Campbell said. "I understand Sheriff Sexton's viewpoints."

Campbell said he still believes the rates are too high; however, he was able to cut 25 percent of the rate.

"If I had my way, rates would have been eliminated completely," he said. "A lot of states have outlawed the rates and padded fees altogether."

According to Campbell, 50 percent of inmates in Caddo Parish haven't been tried and so the costs for the phone calls come back onto the families with children and spouses.

"A lot of the prisoners haven't been tried that are incarcerated. You have to keep that into the consideration," Campbell said. "The families of the prisoners didn't break the law and the children and spouses have the right to talk to their family members in prison."

Other places that have a higher jail population can get higher rate commission.

According to Campbell, Angola receives a 70 percent commission rate on the phone rates.

"The people on the outside deserve to keep in contact with their family member on the inside," he said. He also believes that it is immoral to charge families of inmates the high rates of 30 cents per minute, along with padded fees.

"I am not taking up for the guilty inmates, but these inmates have families and we should encourage this not discourage it," Campbell said. "It helps with rehabilitation and we all want that to happen, because it saves money for the state. It is immoral to do this to people, that can't help themselves. The wives and children did no wrong."






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