The Montana Public Service Commission has proposed limiting the rates charged on calls between inmates and their families, saying the prices charged should not exceed the cost of providing the actual service.
Last month, the all-Republican commission issued a notice requesting comment on the maximum allowable rate charged for calls between places in Montana and correctional facilities in the state.
Many of those comments expressed frustration with the price and quality of service provided by the telephone companies that service the state’s detention centers.
“The price that inmates’ families pay for these services should not exceed the cost of actually providing the service,” said commission vice chairman Travis Kavulla. “That’s how the PSC sets prices for monopolies in this state, and this is no exception.”
The decision mirrors per-minute and service-charge rate caps established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for interstate inmate calling.
According to the PSC’s notice, rates would be capped at $.25 per minute for collect calls and $.21 per minute for calls placed using a pre-paid phone card.
“Some families are paying more for a few moments of contact with a loved one behind bars than they do cellphone services for an entire month,” said Chairman Brad Johnson, R-East Helena.
PSC spokesman Christopher Puyear said the commission’s decision would not affect calls to or from the state prison in Deer Lodge. By contract, those calls are capped at $0.14 per minute.
“Information obtained by the PSC suggests there’s a wide variance between calling rates at different detention facilities,” Puyear said. “In some places, inmates or their families pay nearly $15 for a 15-minute phone call. Jails typically earn a commission off the revenue earned by the companies providing inmate calling services.”
Public comments will be accepted through Sept. 18.