Louisiana's public service commissioners have stalled an effort to cut prices on collect calls from parish jail and state prison inmates.
The commission split 2-2, with one abstention, in a Thursday vote to impose new rules and lower rates.
The issue could recur at the PSC's December meeting. Raising the question, what can the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice do to support this important effort?
The AP reports that:
Social justice groups that aid inmates and family members of inmates left disappointed after their pleas failed.
The proposal is being pushed by Chairman Foster Campbell and supported by Commissioner Jimmy Field. Arguments from Louisiana Sheriffs Association attorney Craig Frosch and Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James Le Blanc persuaded Commissioner Lambert Bossiere III to abstain. He had appeared to favor the effort.
Commissioners Clyde Holloway and Eric Skrmetta oppose the move. Holloway said inmates could afford to make calls if they quit smoking.
After the vote, Campbell characterized the issue as "just raw hard Louisiana politics — 'I'm the sheriff and I have the power to do what I want to do.'"
Campbell said he believes that the sheriffs' plan is to delay any vote until January when Field would no longer be on the commission and his replacement, former Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle, might be more agreeable to the sheriffs keeping the current rate.
"It's over" if the commission doesn't vote to lower the rate in December, he said. Campbell said the deal "stinks to high heaven. This is political. This is the best kept secret in the courthouse."
The Rev. Dan Krutz, an Episcopal priest who serves as director of the Interfaith Council, said prisons and telephone providers should "make a living, not a killing." He urged commissioners to look at what the charges do to families, saying "I cannot believe Jesus would come away and say 'We need to take care of our bottom line.'"
Espinola Quinn of St. Martinville, a mother of two whose husband is in prison, said the high cost of calls makes it even more difficult to "hold it all together" and fund an account to cover the calls.
"My children have not spoken to their father in two months now because I can't afford to put money into that account," she said.
Le Blanc said if the PSC plan is adopted, he would have to cut $900,000 from the $4.7 million in his budget for inmate services.
Frosch urged a delay before a final decision, saying sheriffs needed more time to develop a uniform contract so each parish charges the same amount. He said sheriffs are asking "at least 30 days." Boissiere said he wanted to wait to see what kind of proposal the sheriffs present.
Campbell countered that sheriffs have had since mid-2011 when he filed his motion to reduce the rates. Rates are about 15 times what an ordinary collect call costs, Campbell said.