Commissioner concerned about jail phones rate reduction

The Public Service Commission debated internally whether to reconsider a controversial decision on lowering the fees charged inmates for using jail house phones, according to a letter Commissioner Foster Campbell wrote Friday afternoon to his fellow commissioners on the state utility regulatory board.

PSC Chairman Eric Skrmetta, of Metairie, said the idea that regulators are preparing a hearing that could roll back the lower charges was “just conjecture.”

The issue was not included on the agenda, which was released late Friday, for the PSC’s next meeting on Wednesday.

“I hope you will uphold our unanimous decision,” Campbell, of Bossier Parish, wrote his colleagues Friday.

After hours of often-angry testimony, the five members of the PSC approved a proposal in December to cut the rates charged for all prison calls by 25 percent in an order that lowered the costs for those calls to family, clergy, government officials and some others.

Campbell had argued that the average cost of all calls from jail in Louisiana is about $3 for a 10-minute call. Reducing the costs by 25 percent will bring the average to roughly $2.29 for a 10-minute call, he said.

Skrmetta said Friday that two of the companies contracted to provide phone services at various jails and prisons around the state had requested a rehearing of the December decision. But those requests have been withdrawn, he said.

He said there would be no effort to remove the reductions in prices that the PSC approved in December.

But Skrmetta said the issue may be discussed during the Wednesday meeting of the elected PSC board. He had questions about the quality of the experts’ report on which the commissioners based their votes. Also, some of the language in the order approved in December may need clarification, he said.

Campbell, as chairman of the PSC in December, pushed the vote that led to a 25 percent reduction in charges before the retirement of a supporter of the plan. Jimmy Field, of Baton Rouge, has since been replaced by Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge, on the five-member board.