Espinola Quinn’s children haven’t spoken to their father in more than two months. He is in prison in Louisiana, and an inmate phone account costs upwards of $25 to set up and then must be reloaded regularly. Individual calls from a Louisiana prison or jail cost about 30 cents a minute, too much for the family to afford, Quinn told the Louisiana Public Service Commission, says Stateline. In Louisiana and many other states across the country, outgoing calls made by prison inmates can cost nearly $1 per minute, says the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In Mississippi, a 15 minute long-distance call costs an average of $14.55.
Phone companies argue that their infrastructure costs for serving the prisons are much higher than for serving the general public. They must monitor the calls for suspicious activity and make sure the phone lines are secure. Prisons and jails hire investigators to follow up on information heard in inmate phone calls, such as potential witness tampering or discussion of smuggling contraband into the facility. A proposed rate cut in Louisiana would reduce commissions by 25 percent and set a flat rate for all calls of $1.69 plus five cents a minute. The public service commission may vote on the changes on December 12.