Biz Buzz: Idaho inmates' calls are so costly, they're an example for the FCC
Jan 15, 2013 (The Idaho Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The Federal Communications Commission is moving to lower the prices of telephone calls from prisoners. Idaho is one state where the agency sees a problem.
Collect and pre-paid collect calls with Idaho prison inmates cost up to $3.80 to place, then up to 85 cents per minute plus tax, according to the Idaho Department of Correction. Noncollect calls are a flat $3.40 per half hour.
Idaho prisoners and/or their families and friends can end up paying $16.55 for a 15-minute call, the FCC says. Next door in Montana, it's $2.04.
Idaho's prison phone services provider, Alabama-based Global Tel-Link, is one of two companies that dominate the prison-phone market. The companies can bid for exclusive contracts with state prison agencies like Idaho's, and in many states they'll pay commissions to those agencies. Opponents of the status quo say this is bad for inmates and their families, who tend to be low-income.
Idaho's contract generates about $1.4 million a year in revenue, says Correction Department spokesman Jeffrey Ray. The money benefits inmates by helping to pay for inmate work programs, recreation programs, and religious and legal services, he says.
The FCC wants to more closely examine the market and determine whether it should cap rates. Other states have taken it on themselves to lower charges. Connecticut rebid its contract and reportedly shaved about 69 percent off its rates for 15-minute calls.
The argument for such high rates in the free-long-distance era Aside from commissions and the cost of running a phone service, prison calls have monitoring needs. In Idaho, prison calls are recorded unless a lawyer requests otherwise.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448
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