Dec 12, 2012 7:53 PM by Erin Steuber

Cheaper Phone Calls for Inmates a Major Blow to Budgets for Sheriff Departments

Phone calls from inmates to their families could be cheaper, after today's state public service commission vote. Cheaper calls means less money going to sheriff's offices, which may mean they'll eventually ask their local governments for more money.

40,000 people are in jails across the state.That's the highest number of people behind bars per capita in the world.

The average cost of a call from jail is 30 cents a minute, 15 times more expensive than calls on the outside. This proposal lowers the cost by about 7 cents. But after today's vote, these cheaper prices will only affect certain calls. Sheriff's offices across the state profit greatly from these calls, and cheaper prices, means a major blow to their budgets.

According to St. Landry Parish Sheriff, Bobby Guidroz, last year his office made $44,000 in profit from inmate phone calls. Without it, he says departments across the state may have to ask for more money from the parishes.

"The second thing I'd have to do, is probably, go into my budget and try to find some money," said Guidroz. "The third thing is eliminate the phone business. If I don't have the money to do it they're going to be the losers, and so are the families."

A mother of an inmate, who asked not to be identified, says the cost of inmate phone calls is outrageous. And having a loved one in jail is hard enough. But Guidroz says the profit from inmate calls, not only helps run the jails, but provides, what he calls, amenities for the inmates.

"Such as bringing them to funerals, bringing them to wakes of family and loved ones," said Guidroz.

After today's vote, certain calls will be cheaper. Calls to family, schools, lawyers and clergy, will cost an average of 23cents a minute, instead of 30. But Guidroz says this poses more of a problem, than a solution.

"I mean, how are we going to know who the family members is. I mean, these are cons and they're supposed to tell us well it's my mother," said Guidroz. "How do we know it's your mother on the end of the line to get a reduced rate on a phone charge."

The changes will not go into effect until the current contracts expire. The Public Service Commission, and Louisiana Sheriff's Association, are set to meet on this again sometime in January.



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