BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) - The cost of inmate phone calls was at the center of a heated debate Wednesday at a Louisiana Public Service Commission meeting, often leading to yelling and arguing.
Several people on both sides of the issue stepped up to the microphone in Bossier City, telling the commission how they felt about the issue.
"We can not afford to allow that phone company to continue to gouge the people because they are in jail, enough is enough on that," said Lloyd Thompson, a spokesman with the NAACP.
But Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator said he has to stretch his budget to meet the needs of residents.
"I use every bit of my 65 million dollars to serve the people, part of that is making the prisoners, or their families if needed, if that's what it takes, pay for phone calls," he said.
At least two members of the commission, Lambert Boissiere III of New Orleans and Foster Campbell of Bossier City said inmate phone company providers are taking advantage of their monopoly status to charge unfair and over-the-top fees to inmates and their families.
"It has nothing to do with law enforcement," Campbell said. "This has to do with stopping excessive charges that I think are illegal, that's all it does."
But commission chairman Eric Skrmetta of Metaire said inmate phone calls are a privilege, not a right. Losing the money generated from the fees could mean less funding for monitoring those same prisoner phone calls, something Campbell disputes.
"They are going to be just like they've always been," Campbell said. "If you are in jail and you make a call it's going to be recorded."
Campbell believes two phone companies, including City Tele Coin based in Bossier City, have been adding on charges not approved by the commission.
"These companies, I think they ought to be fined, I think they ought to refund the money they've gotten from these people illegally," he said.
According to Campbell, this issue will soon go before a judge to see if either phone company violated the commission's policy.
Campbell claims Skrmetta's point of view is biased because he has accepted campaign donations from City Tele Coin's Owner Jerry Juneau and his wife, both donations totaling $10,000 in December of 2013, according to campaign finance disclosure reports.
Skrmetta denies the allegation of bias, stating that Campbell asked the Juneaus for money while he was running for governor.
Campbell said jail phone rate fees will be voted on in a few months.