The Louisiana Public Service Commission voted to roll back the rate charged to inmates by about 25 percent. With an amendment made Wednesday, the lowered rate only applies to calls to family members, clergy, legal counsel, and some government entities, including schools. The charge for calls will drop when existing prison phone service contracts end or in two years.
The five commissioners approved the rate change without objection after an unusually lengthy and at times tense debate.
Religious leaders advocated for the change, saying it's poor families who pay for the calls.
State Rep. Terry Landry, who headed the state police under Governor Mike Foster, agreed.
“The people that pay this burden committed no crimes, they just have the human need and desire to talk to their family members who have been incarcerated," Landry said.
With total budgets in the tens of millions, the reduction in revenue for sheriff’s offices is estimated to be in the tens of thousands – one or two tenths of a percent.
But Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand testified that would be a painful hit, saying his department hasn’t issued raises since 2006.
“We’re scraping for pennies and nickels, not dollars," Normand said, "One-hundred thousand dollars to me is two and a half deputies." Normand said.
The Public Service Commission will open a new docket in January to further study the costs of prison phone systems, including what it takes to monitor calls.